I spent several days with the American infantry unit that is based in the eastern part of Ghazni province (Andar and Deh-Yak disricts). Approximately 1,000 soldiers were added to Ghazni last fall as part of President Obama's 30,000 strong troop surge. They are technically under the command of the Polish General, but their direct commander is a U.S. Colonel. I wanted to get a feel for how American operations compared to the Polish, and to talk to the Americans about the progress they had made since they arrived. The guys I spent time with were from Fort Knox, Kentucky. The bases I visited while embedded with them were basically just tiny outposts - Deh Yak had maybe 100 guys stationed there, and for the duration I was definitely the only XX chromosome around. I had to yell "FEMALE!" every time I walked into the "bathroom" (shudder to remember it) and had to ask a boy to stand guard when I wanted a shower. They were all gentlemen, and in true gentleman form fought over who got to carry my bag. For sleep arrangements they had part of one of the tents walled off with two cots on the other side (They used to have a female cook who lived there). They boys were polite enough to knock on the plywood to see if I needed anything. If I ran into them at the mall I would have guessed they were 13 years old. They ran an extension cord over the wall so I could have power, and made sure to let me know that if I needed anything I just holler. They all yelled "goodnight ma'am!" and then I heard them make fart jokes and play shoot-em-up videos games all night.
Andar and Deh-Yak are two of the most dangerous provinces in Ghazni, possibly in all of Afghanistan at the moment. The troops in these regions were getting attacked every day, often several times a day. They were seeing a lot of action. The U.S. Colonel had been to the main base to visit the General, so I hitched a ride with his convoy for the return trip to Andar, about a 45 minute ride.
Depending on how many camels crossed the road.
My second day with them our 10:00am patrol was delayed because four of their best Afghan Police officers were ambushed and killed during the night. It was the first time such an attack had happened in the Police Chief’s home town, one of the few places the ANP felt secure enough to patrol without an American escort. It was not a good sign and everyone took it pretty hard. Some of the Americans had grown close to their Afghan counterparts. All patrols are required to have an Afghan element, so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to continue with the mission as our escorts were all dead.
The Americans did eventually find someone who was willing to go with us. A mangy looking Afghan Army soldier who wore his army cargo pants tucked into his two-sizes-too-big laceless-sockless-combat boots. He flopped ahead as we patrolled through towns and wore his rifle haphazardly on a string, pointing this way and that. The Afghan security forces don’t have armored vehicles, and usually just ride around in the back of a pickup truck. The guy who stands there manning the gun in the flatbed has balls of steel. Everyone knows he’s the bullseye.
The briefing that morning was one of the most tense I’d seen. The Americans knew they were going to see some action, and they were fired up. The platoon sergeant briefed at a yell, “We’re going to go out and kill some fucking bad guys today! You see a dude holding a fucking weapon you hose him down!” Then he added, still yelling, "And make sure you drink some fucking water, and eat some fucking snacks!"
We had a long day ahead of us. We were headed out. More pictures to come.
Here are some pictures from around the base.
Pano I stitched together of Deh Yak:
Water bottles everywhere.