Michael's Dispatches

Every Step is Your Last

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21 September 2011
Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan
Task Force Spartan, 4-4 Cav

The moon in September was special and the war kept going.

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Bombs are planted everywhere.  The dogs catch some, but the dogs will get blown up, too.

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Task Force Spartan is slowly tightening its hold around the Taliban sanctuary in this area of Kandahar Province.  Soldiers from 4-4 Cav are charged with taking Zhari District.  This was a typical mission.

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No matter where we walk, the enemy will plant bombs.  On the roads, in the grape rows, in the middle of open fields where nobody would ever plant a bomb, there will be a bomb and people get blown up.  The victims often are noncombatants, such as children.  And so we were walking in this dry canal.  When there is water, the enemy will stretch tripwires below the surface.  Nowhere is safe and there are only so many places we can walk.

The point man often misses the bomb and is not hit.  The casualty might be the fifth man, or the fifteenth.  One casualty in 4-4 Cav was the 35th troop in the sequence.  In this war, every man, or woman, is on point.  One step from the “cleared” path might as well be a hundred miles off.  During firefights you go for cover.  Before I was here, a Soldier fell off a path and was killed.  The person who triggers the bombs is not always the one who is hit.  The triggers are often at a distance from the charges.  Or, as happens many times on every mission, you are standing there and someone walks by going forward or back, and to pass by they step must off to the side and in that moment you both can go.

This sun was just rising.  The night before, Soldiers and the dog had slept on the ground and I slept on the roof of a house.  Now the sun was rising and birds were singing and we were walking in the canal when BOOM.

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There was an explosion.  He was not the first in line.  We kept walking through the ditch, and behind me were some women that Americans seem to think are not in combat, and there they were, stepping on dangerous ground again.

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We had first walked here some weeks ago after coming in by helicopter.  Three Soldiers from 4-4 Cav had been shot very close by.  One bullet was stopped by a protective vest, leaving only a sizable bruise on the ribs.  Two other Soldiers were shot in the face and one died.  Just around the corner in the image above, a Soldier was on the ground.  He had stepped on a bomb.

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While the wounded man was down, others moved forward, carefully, to help.  The bombs often come in clusters and so you start off with one troop killed and end up with several dead or wounded.

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