Afghanistan

Afghanistan, NATO, and Bill Arkin

People who have perused my site--or talked to me for more than 3 minutes--know that I can occasionally be a little bitter about the whole state of "the other war." I didn`t go to Iraq--I went to Afghanistan. When I was preparing to go back in late 2005, a lot of people were astounded to learn that we were still there. Wasn`t that a done deal?

In a way, I`m somewhat gratified to see that it`s making a comeback in the public consciousness, though I really wish it were for a different reason.

This morning my Google News page was infested by a piece by Bill Arkin. Where have I heard that name? Oh yes. That`s the asshat that prattled on about our obscene amenities last year. Today, he`s prattling on about Afghanistan. I`ll say this for Bill: he makes his opinion clearly and unambiguously.

Afghanistan: America Wrong, Europe Right
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is again beating up on Europeans for not doing more in Afghanistan, a now familiar theme in his blame-anybody-but-us strategy.

It goes on to talk about the recurring theme in Afghanistan--a lot of troops not doing a hell of a lot of actual fighting--and then lambasts SecDef Gates for seemingly trying to apply the Iraq methodology to Afghanistan when in fact these are completely different, and what Afghanistan needs is more non-kinetic ops.

I`m reposting my reply here because I have no confidence that it will still be there later:

I spent some time with a small American detachment working on a Canadian-run FOB near Kandahar in late 2006. Under their NATO commander, the Canadians could not engage in any "offensive" operations, meaning that they sat on the FOB and watched insurgents move and transport equipment through their area.

The Americans, under a US Army captain, would do "recon by fire"--that is, finding the bad guys by driving around until we were attacked--at which time we could call for a quick reaction force. This was the only time the Canadians could do anything other than purely defensive measures. I don`t know what the commanders thought, but the joes loved us for it. They could see what was happening right in front of them.

Non-kinetic operations cannot take place in the absence of security. Security requires boots and the ground and active engagement of the Taliban remnants. You won`t build any nations in a place where people are beheaded for selling Americans cigarettes, and letters are spread promising death to entire families should anyone accept humanitarian aid.

We saw what happened early last year when NATO decided not to hold the previously-secured Musa Qah`leh. A "gentleman`s agreement" with the local Talibs resulted in the town becoming a major Taliban stronghold--from the same district center that we had occupied (and fortified) weeks earlier. Taking it back required a price paid in blood.

If Secretary Gates were advocating some other strategy, no doubt you would be castigating him for not heeding the lessons learned at such cost in Iraq.

I`ve bitched about NATO in Afghanistan before. Here, I talk about Musa Qah`leh, which had to be retaken after it was essentially given back to the Talibs. Comments posted later at Blackfive about the Dutch approach resulted in this exchange.

I am a lowly E-5. Far be it from me to advise SecDef Gates on what he should push NATO to do. But it doesn`t take a rocket scientist to see that a lot of countries are not interested in shouldering a fair share of the dirty work--not even a model rocket scientist.

Sig

Defining moments and dividing lines

In which Sig elaborates on pre- and post-Afghanistan life.

What have we done?

I think it was five beers in total. Not much when I was in college, perhaps, but I'm older now and out of practice.

We talked about the Army, and Afghanistan, and the people we brought over, brought back, and left behind. We ate some excellent steaks. We heard the stories again, and we told the stories again, and we didn't interrupt when we heard one we'd heard before, because we know that the secret is in the telling, not the hearing. We asked the questions that shouldn't be asked, and we left unvoiced the questions that others ask, because they've been asked and answered before--water under the bridge.

I saw the valleys and the mountains, and I smelled the gun smoke and I heard the zipzipzip of incoming rounds and I felt the Humvee rock on its springs as the F-18s released their concussive payloads, and I saw again the local nationals who have bet it all on our notoriously fickle public policies, and I felt the SAW hammer at my hands, the ratatatatatatatatataPING as the casings ricocheted off the roof of the truck and then off the front glacis plate. I felt the frustration of 11 time zones of separation from my beloved. I heard the haunted tones from comrades who were seeing their own visions from OEF VII.

And I wondered whether we are draining painful blisters when we reminisce about the defining moments in our lives, or whether we are merely picking half-healed scabs...

Sig

Uniform

Uniform

I submitted this image to Military Motivator, but it either slipped through the cracks or was deemed not quite proper.

This is, of course, one of my team leaders in Afghanistan, about whom I have posted before. His sins against the uniform never ceased to amaze me.

Sig

[Edit: I spoke too soon; maybe he just had a backlog. Anyway, this one made MM a few weeks ago.]

American soldiers murdering a helpless local national

Warning--this video is not for the faint of stomach. This is SGT (now SSG) Smallville's finest hour, when he single-handedly bludgeoned an Afghan rattus to death in our temporary barracks while the other American soldiers present laughed and took pictures. In addition to the graphic carnage, there is some soldierly language.

[Video embedded in full entry.]

Blackhawk leaving the scene

I'm playing with YouTube. You know me--I like to stay comfortably two years behind the power curve.


Sig

The touristy part of Afghanistan

The touristy part of Afghanistan

This is from Operation Wayward Donkey, our first op, in the NE part of the country along the Pakistan border. Truly amazing landscape to fly over. I don't recommend any other method of travel, frankly; the infrastructure is a little lacking. Of particular interest to me was the terracing for the agriculture; there is so little actual flat land in this region that you will see tiny little terraces on insane slopes as the locals try to farm wherever they can find dirt.

If they could put in some roads, build a few hotels, and stop killing each other for selling cigarettes to Americans, this could be a real touristy area.

This part of the coutry exists solely to convince foreigners that "it's not so bad here." We would never see green again.

Sig

"....Re-up? You're outta your mind!"

"....Re-up? You're outta your mind!"

I wish I'd thought to get names, but this is some joe from C/2-87 INF taking a moment from our busy mission of getting mortared and shot at to re-enlist in the United States Army. This was on a ridgeline deep in Helmand province last summer, where we were attacked four times during our 18-day visit.

Sig

Between the lines

It's practically a form notice. I'm sure that there's a MS Word template somewhere with places to fill in the names and units.
[quote="DefenseLink"]The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Pfc. Kevin F. Edgin, 31, of Dyersburg, Tenn., died on July 6 in Baghran Valley, Afghanistan, when his convoy encountered enemy small arms fire. Edgin was assigned to the Army's 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.[/quote]
His convoy encountered enemy small arms fire. Vague. Sounds like they were just driving around and came across some gang bangers or something.

I didn't know Kevin Edgin. I never met him. But like another fallen soldier I never met, I know a bit about him.

Heavy metal

Heavy metal

This was known to us only as "the EOD truck," EOD being Explosive Ordnance Disposal a.k.a. the bomb-lickers, but it appears to be a Cougar HEV in the 6x6 configuration. All I know is that it was filled with fun toys for girls and boys and that it was extraordinarily heavy.

Sig

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