- Published: Sunday, 14 February 2010 20:00
At Brick 1, everything seemed fine; soldiers were cutting up, saying Perez the sniper couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.
We walked to the roof of Brick 1 where Perez had his calculator out, doing the math for a long shot, and I wondered who he was going to shoot. Turns out he was only preparing to fire at an IED that had recently been placed within direct sight of patrol base. A patrol had moved out to get a closer look at the bomb.
Though December is dry and brown, the micro-terrain in the valley is like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak. The enemy can still sneak around. And so the area immediately outside the perimeter is likely to have a bomb that wasn’t there the day before.
A couple of helicopters could be seen in the far distance, doing who knows what.
A fat puppy slept on the roof near one of the machine guns, while a brown sheep was running around in the courtyard below. Keeping dogs on base has been against regs since at least World War II, yet I have never been to a single base in Afghanistan or Iraq that doesn’t have at least one. It’s highly doubtful that Secretary Gates or Admiral Mullen really care about the dogs. At these isolated, small posts, dogs have probably saved a lot of American lives, but mostly they just make good pals. Families send puppy chow through the mail and it’s common to see soldiers with bags of dog food and puppy chow.
On the roof were two interpreters. One “terp” wore the nametag “Tarzan,” saying an American captain had given him the name and he liked it. Afghan men tend to be fanatics for professional wrestling, so there was little doubt he tried to live up to his appellation. He seemed very proud to be called Tarzan.
The soldiers and terps were joking, despite the new bomb nearby which indicated that someone in the neighborhood wanted to kill them. Only the lone sheep seemed unhappy in his loneliness. There was an explosion in the far distance. There were no birds in the air, other than helicopters in the distance. The day before, the Dutch had come in with a giant helicopter to FOB Frontenac and picked up one of their helicopters that had come back from a mission with bullet holes. The Dutch took off the rotors, drained fluids, and flew it away.
Soldiers at Brick 1 said a mortar strike made this hole in their roof but that fight happened before they arrived. There is the saying that war consists of long periods of sheer boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Here there’s something pretty much always going on, though often we don’t know what it is. You can hear explosions or firing, or see the helicopters or jets up to something, but you don’t know what.
1st Platoon prepared to depart Brick 1, leaving the current inhabitants nearby.
We walked for maybe another half-mile through a small village that Lieutenant Fadden said previously had been abandoned, but after soldiers had moved into Brick 1 and began regular patrols, families starting coming back. This is a good effect of our work. Creating safety for the local population is the basis of an effective counterinsurgency strategy. LT Fadden’s statements are consistent with observations I’ve made elsewhere in Afghanistan, and also what we saw in Iraq in 2007. Despite much grim news from Afghanistan, there is clear progress in some areas.
This same confusion was evident nearly every step of the way in Iraq between 2004 and mid 2007: clear progress in some respects with clear backsliding in others. This is the nature of progress in face of opposition. It’s like a ship whose engines are pushing one way, while the currents are flowing another, while the changing winds are blowing yet another, and it’s all happening at night, and there is no GPS. You just have to wait for clear nights to check the stars, and, as it has been said, smooth seas never made a successful sailor. This military has weathered ferocious storms over the past eight years, more than even they can remember, often enduring setbacks and tragedies, sometimes blown off course. Over that time, there has been movement toward our goals, but not enough, and the enemy is strengthening.
This village had water wells similar in form to what can be seen in many villages in Afghanistan.
We walked back to the ANA base without incident. Some 82nd Airborne soldiers were preparing for a mission. They had no way of knowing that an earthquake was brewing in Haiti and other 82nd soldiers would soon be swooping in there to save lives.
Tonight, 18 December 2009, their unit would take command of the area, and the 1-17th would go out to FOB Frontenac to take a different area. Stryker soldiers from the 1-17th talked quietly about the Humvees, sadly predicting the loss of 82nd brethren, and then changed the subject to more lighthearted matters.
A few minutes later, I joined a different Stryker convoy for the several-hour journey back to FOB Frontenac. We would travel through the area where five Canadians --four soldiers and a journalist -- would soon be killed. This was shortly before the suicide bombing at a base that attacked CIA officers, killing eight people. The CIA is out here working hard but they don’t get much credit. That’s the way it must be.
As we crossed dangerous terrain, a helicopter from some unknown country swooped over the convoy a couple times. The Strykers are bad about getting stuck in the desert, but are better than the heavy humvees, and so we crossed some wadis at 90 degrees. Over my headset, soldiers talked about the high danger of this area. Later that night, we got back to FOB Frontenac and learned that an 82nd Airborne Convoy had been hit in a wadi that we had crossed. The humvees cannot cross wadis like Strykers can. A ranking soldier explained that the humvee had driven in the wadi and been hit. Two soldiers were wounded. Sergeant Albert Ware, an 82nd Airborne soldier from Chicago, had been killed. Albert was originally from Liberia and on his second tour in Afghanistan. A story in Chicago would say the following:
“Tragically, the war monument in the Pullman neighborhood will soon bear another name, after a 27-year-old father of three was killed this week by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Sgt. Albert Ware died after his Humvee was blown up while he was on a secret mission…When Ware told his parents he'd joined the military after the Sept 11 terror attacks, they were angry that he voluntarily chose to go to war.
"I was afraid," said his father, Thomas Ware."
Sergeant Albert Ware died in service to the United States. He is an American hero. Since this mission, the Coalition has lost about a hundred more. The war goes on.
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