The Fighting Season… Really? A Season?
Yes really. Once the mountain passes open up from the winter snows, what is known as the “Fighting Season” starts. From what I’ve learned, since coming to Afghanistan, is that most of the Al Qaeda and Taliban forces have been holed up in Pakistan or have been less than active in the past several months. It seems that most of our incidents and casualties have been from home grown Jihadist or Afghans that are taking their revenge on the US and NATO forces for the recent Quran burning or the crime committed by one very troubled soldier. These events are nothing more, in my opinion, than triggers for actions that are just waiting to happen. As I write this dispatch, our communications are down again.
A few days ago a US soldier was killed by the Afghan Local Police. The A.L.P opened fire on US soldiers walking patrol in a village close to our location resulting in the death of one of our soldiers. Casualties were somewhat higher on the other side. These are the same people that provide our security and the very same people we train to keep the peace. Today the helos came swooping in again. Three more brave soldiers were wounded. This time they will all make it thankfully. I watched as the medevac helicopters came in and figured something bad had happened. They landed on the hill mentioned in a previous article I wrote and they came in hot with no time to waste. Here the angles of mercy are not surrounded in a bright white light. They are covered in dust and arrive and depart on dark greenish mechanical machines but they are angles of mercy just the same.
This type of thing has happened too many times recently and it has an effect on all of us. Talking to the soldiers that I work with, we pretty much all feel the same. Guards or not, working with us or not. Most soldiers, and this goes for me included, won’t let the Afghan security forces get behind us. If we are patrolling with them or I’m doing a search, they are in front. Remember “Trust but Verify?” This is more like “Don’t Trust and Watch Everyone.”
Several days ago while searching for narcotics just outside the forward Entry Control Point I noticed something out of place. There were a couple of wires where there should not have been. I investigated closer and discovered a homemade electronic detonator. Immediately the set procedures came into action, shutting down the entire ECP. Not until all was cleared (I can’t say exactly what we did but rest assured it was thorough) did anything move again. They drill into all of us about Situational Awareness. (SA) Yea, we really do keep that in mind, believe me.
There is a sense of heightened alertness all around in the soldiers I work with. That alertness is very noticeable, almost palatable. We don’t search quite as far outside the wire as we did. Before where I felt ok with the Afghan guards, I now don’t venture out without a US security contingent by my side. My assignment has also expanded to several different locations in Afghanistan. The need for K-9 support, both in searching for narcotics as well as explosives, has never been greater.
With the Fighting Season closing in, the mood at my FOB has also changed. The soldiers are more intense, more aware. You even see more soldiers at the gym making up for the slow times of the winter. Units are doing all those things to get ready for action. The relaxed attitude of the winter where nothing really moved much, and the Taliban with less than adequate cold weather gear stayed inside, is clearly over. There is also the constant and I do mean constant whap- whap-whap of the Apache attack helicopters with their missiles and rockets hanging like claws from some angry flying dragon. They really do have that appearance flying overhead, always in twos, back and forth on patrols. It may sound funny that a loud and rumbling noise, one that actually vibrates the room at 03:00, is comforting… but it is. Every time I see them I think of the Gonzales Apaches back home.
Another sign is the fact that we are expanding our K-9 support to assist in the security of FOBs that in the past had no four legged soldiers. What this means for me personally is I’m moving to these FOBs on a rotational basis or when the situation warrants. Looks like lots more helo trips in the future for me and Jack. On one of these missions last week I was on the ground not more than an hour when we had our first casualty at the main gate. A truck driven by an Afghan driver had just left the FOB. About a hundred yards out the gate, the truck he was driving hit an IED. The driver was killed. We found three more IEDs that afternoon leading into the FOB.
These missions don’t take too long. I was on a narcotics search mission and by day’s end I had found nine bags of illicit narcotics on the FOB in the Afghan worker’s areas. That search done, Jack and I jumped on a Blackhawk Helicopter and headed back to my home base.
The soldiers here very seldom get involved in the drug problem, at least not wittingly. I say that because we can no longer eat the Afghan fresh bread that we use to get from the vendors that feed the Afghan guards we work with. Seems the bread was tainted with drugs. Yep, the food tested positive for cocaine.
You know? Maybe it really wasn’t as good as we thought.
Listening, watching, and waiting here in Afghanistan,
I’m Jon Harris
and this has been another Dispatch from Downrange.