The Graveyard, Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan:
In starting this segment I was pretty concerned about OPSEC, operational security. Too many times have people posted stuff on the internet that have subsequently led to attacks or worse from the information divulged. Some genius out West took pictures of his COP from every angle and posted them on the internet with markings as to the layout. Some Talib probably surfing the web for porn, or training videos involving monkey bars, found the photos and gave the COP a seriously bad day. I look at the operations we are currently conducting and ask myself what I should say. Then I realize something. I realize that the plans for this operation were given to the district government, and thus to the Taliban. Were that not enough to telegraph our movements, these plans were divulged to the population at large in an announcement, and thus to the Taliban. It’s sad, not just a who, what, when, where, why, and how, but timelines, locations, contracts, and other vital pieces of information that can be used to hurt US soldiers, Afghan security forces, and local contractors. Brilliant, really. Couldn’t have done it better myself.
Anyway, we are going to a new place, right in the heart of insurgent territory. We have been fighting in and around there for some time, and now will deal a critical blow to the enemy’s infrastructure. Our troop has attacked, and will stay right in their backyard. It’s satisfying, like driving your truck through a really irritating neighbors dining room, using the toilet without flushing, smashing the TV, and putting your feet up on the couch. When the neighbor comes up and says, “hey man, this is my house,” my soldiers will turn and say, “not anymore, jackass.” They have tried very hard to prevent this. The TB threw most all of their arsenal at the troop, with little effect. When we brought ours down on them, they paid dearly for their transgressions. The Man frowns on us discussing numbers, but lets just say there will be a substantial amount of digging involved for the enemy undertakers. Alas, poor Yousef, we knew him well.
One of my favorite events of the past few days has been the employment of our mortars. These nifty little contraptions drop warheads of varying types and sizes on the fighting positions we take contact from. Picture this. A Taliban fighter wakes up and is told by his commander to go attack the Americans. The young man grabs his AK-47, opium infused snuff and sets on his way accompanied by several other bros. They sneak through the wadi lines and hide under the trees, eventually arriving to a good place to attack from with cover and concealment. They prepare, set up the RPG’s, lock and load, take a man sized hit of opium-snuff. High as a kite and ready to kill for god, the young man peeks around a corner, takes aim, and fires his weapon. His buddies do the same. What they did not anticipate was that our response would be doubly violent. High-explosive grenades, accurate rifle fire, and ear-shattering heavy machine guns chatter our virulent response. Oh no! the Talib fighter is pinned down, but behind cover. If he waits it out, he can drop the weapon and walk away unscathed to come down from being all jacked up on something significantly stronger than Mountain Dew. Then the bass kicks in on the Symphony Ferocious, No. 9, scherzo. An American soldier, same age as the Talib, places a bulbous mass of steel and explosive attached to fins into a tube. It slides to the bottom where it hits the firing pin and is ejected like a clown from a cannon. This clown, however, will bring no smiles. It sails through the air and reaches the apogee where it turns over. Nose downward, it hurtles towards the young fighters crouched behind cover from our bullets. On impact, the cap is crushed and the explosive ignites, blasting lateral frag everywhere, Inception style. We call this positive effects on the enemy.
According to my tarjiman (interpreter), this area we are going to translates from Pashtun as “The Graveyard” and will be where these updates are sent from now on as the COP is built. I expect they presumed the fight would be so costly for us as to resemble a graveyard, and now, ironically, it has become many of their own. The TB have been here for years without significant impediment from us, and that time ends now. Cut off from many of their resources, continuing to make calamitous attacks, they will feel the hurt as it strangles and stretches them thin. Victory may not be immanent, and the war certainly not over, but it’s hard times to come for those murderous pederasts.
Almost had an ANA kill himself. When we are on mission, the condition of our weapons is known in Army parlance as ‘red’ indicating there is a bullet in the chamber. In this status, all a soldier has to do is flip the safety switch and pull the trigger. The ANA know when to go red or back to amber (no round in the chamber), but have really poor safety discipline. It was the morning, pretty early and before all the attacks began when we established security in a strong point. A truly gifted ANA soldier had gotten mud in the muzzle of his M16 on the walk there. To eliminate the blockage, he lifted the weapon to his mouth, still red, and blew on it like a trumpet, thumb in the trigger well of a loaded weapon not on safe. Pause. I’m going to restate this again for effect. To get the mud out of the barrel of his loaded weapon not on safe, he used his mouth, thumb only a hair from the trigger. SSG Pierce, being the good NCO he is, yelled at him and made the on the spot correction before Darwin took over. Ladies and gents, I present the future defenders of Afghanistan.
I’ve had an idea recently to remediate some of these issues. Though I have told my higher, I am not sure they will be receptive. As ridiculous as that last anecdote was, it is a serious problem. If these ANA soldiers are not ready to shoulder the burden of defending their country when we leave, the house of cards will fall. My idea is that we take a break from patrolling for a few weeks and focus on a training regimen for these guys. I am talking about time where my soldiers and NCO’s can sit down and teach these guys how to use their equipment, how to avoid IEDs, and how to kill Talibs efficiently. Basic things like weapons safety, maintenance, and marksmanship. The culmination of this training event would be to start patrolling again with the ANA in the lead. Right now we have to run partnered patrols, and the term “ANA led” is just appeasement doublespeak for “we did all the work, exposed ourselves to all the danger, and the ANA happened to be present.” It is time to get these guys in gear, get them leading their own patrols to clean up their own country’s bad guys. We’ll watch their backs.
I was struck the other day by the historical similarity of our strategy in the Arghandab river area compared to the U.S. Cavalry’s operations in the American Southwest. Out on the frontier, equine-borne troopers maneuvered to the points where they could best dominate the countryside and established forts. These forts and outposts have been glorified by John Wayne movies as wildly romantic and clearly left out the part about sweating your cojones off in the West Texas summer, getting scalped by a native, or losing your arm to snakebite. Thankfully, our medical capabilities are much greater, but so are our military capabilities. The similarities lie in that both the horseback U.S. Cavalry and the boot traveling scouts of today used these forts to dominate terrain. I hope we will see similar outcomes and drive the Taliban from their homes and strongholds in a vastly more justified version of the trail of tears. Despite being so justified, I am sure Al Jazeera will release a commercial featuring a Taliban gazing over his westernized homeland, single tear rolling down his cheek as he watches children get educated and women come out of their homes like, gasp, human beings.
Staying nine and a half hours ahead, HE heavy, and until next time faithful readers,
1LT Wm Treadway