SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - It’s about 6 p.m. in Afghanistan - 10:30 a.m. in South Bend - when Pete Buttigieg picks up the phone. Half a world away, in the middle of a war zone, he sounds like his usual self - calm, confident, thoughtful.
Asked how he’s doing, the intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserve, who also happens to be the mayor of South Bend, responds, “Pretty well overall.”
“We’re just pretty excited that Election Day went well,” he says, referring to the recent runoff for Afghan president, on June 14.
Accusations of fraud continue to hang over the election, threatening to destabilize the country, but turnout was good, according to initial estimates, demonstrating a desire on the part of everyday Afghans to participate in democratic elections.
“One of the things that’s been pretty inspiring around here, all the Afghans I met in the last few days had their fingers inked to mark that they voted,” he says.
For some voters, that exercise in democracy came at a high price. According to reports, insurgents cut off the fingers of 11 voters and killed at least 20 more in election-day attacks.
The 32-year-old acknowledges the safety concerns in the country.
“We are in a war zone, of course, and there are reminders of that all the time,” he says. “But I’m also surrounded by trained professionals in the military, and I’ve also got excellent training.
“Part of my morning routine, of course, is I don’t leave the room without a gun,” he adds.
Intelligence, though, not fire power, is the weapon of choice in his line of work, he told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/1wiSy2i) by phone this week from Afghanistan. He is currently deployed there for six months as part of a special unit of one.
The mayor left for the country in April and is set to return at the end of September. He’s limited in what he can say about his mission.
“I can tell you that I’m working on the intersection of drugs, finance and terrorism,” Buttigieg said, commenting for the first time in any detail on his work in the country.
“I’m assigned to a counterterrorism organization called the Afghan Threat Finance Cell,” he continued. “My mission is to protect the homeland and target the most dangerous drug trafficking organizations in Afghanistan.”
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led unit, the cell investigates and disrupts financial networks that fund the insurgency in Afghanistan. Partner agencies include the Treasury and Department of Defense.
Buttigieg said he could not comment further on his mission, only that he works long hours. Not even his family knows for sure what he does.