From a Recon Marine in Afghanistan
From the Sand Pit it's freezing here. I'm sitting on hard, cold
dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush
Mountains , along the Dar 'yoi Pomir River , watching a hole that
leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave. Stake out, my friend, and
no pizza delivery for thousands of miles.
I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen
seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I've actually given up
battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but the scorpions give a
jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard.. The antidote
tastes like transmission fluid, but God bless the Marine Corps for
the five vials of it in my pack.
The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or
not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and
drink water. That requires couriers and that's where an old
bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers,
locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info
into the handheld, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link
that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware. We bash
some heads for a while, then I track and record the new movement.
It's all about intelligence. We haven't even brought in the
snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they're in
for. We are but days away from cutting off supply lines and
allowing the eradication to begin.
I dream of bin Laden waking up to find me standing over him with
my boot on his throat as I spit into his face and plunge my
nickel-plated Bowie knife through his frontal lobe. But you know
me, I'm a romantic. I've said it before and I'll say it again:
This country blows, man. It's not even a country. There are no
roads, there's no infrastructure, there's no government. This is
an inhospitable, rock pit shit hole ruled by eleventh century
warring tribes. There are no jobs here like we know jobs.
Afghanistan offers two ways for a man to support his family: join
the opium trade or join the army. That's it. Those are your
options. Oh, I forgot, you can also live in a refugee camp and
eat plum-sweetened, crushed beetle paste and squirt mud like a
goose with stomach flu, if that's your idea of a party. But the
smell alone of those 'tent cities of the walking dead' is enough
to hurl you into the poppy fields to cheerfully scrape bulbs for
eighteen hours a day.
I've been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks, and Turkmen and
even a couple of Pushtuns, for over a month-and-a-half now, and
this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of 'em, are Huns...
actual, living Huns.. They LIVE to fight. It's what they do.
It's ALL they do. They have no respect for anything, not for their
families, nor for each other, nor for themselves. They claw at
one another as a way of life. They play polo with dead calves and
force their five-year-old sons into human cockfights to defend the
family honor. Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who
feed on each other's barbarism. Cavemen with AK-47's. Then
again, maybe I'm just cranky.
I'm freezing my ass off on this stupid hill because my lap warmer
is running out of juice, and I can't recharge it until the sun
comes up in a few hours. Oh yeah! You like to write letters,
right? Do me a favor, Bizarre. Write a letter to CNN and tell
Wolf and Anderson and that awful, sneering, pompous Aaron Brown to
stop calling the Taliban 'smart.' They are not smart. I suggest
CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for
is 'cunning.' The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and
wolverines. They are sneaky and ruthless, and when confronted,
cowardly. They are hateful, malevolent parasites who create
nothing and destroy everything else. Smart. Pfft. Yeah, they're
They've spent their entire lives reading only one book (and not a
very good one, as books go) and consider hygiene and indoor
plumbing to be products of the devil. They're still figuring out
how to work a Bic lighter. Talking to a Taliban warrior about
improving his quality of life is like trying to teach an ape how
to hold a pen; eventually he just gets frustrated and sticks you
in the eye with it.
OK, enough. Snuffle will be up soon, so I have to get back to my
hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice, but
I'm good at it.
Please, I tell you and my fellow Americans to turn off the TV sets
and move on with your lives. The story line you are getting from
CNN and other news agencies is utter bullshit and designed not to
deliver truth but rather to keep you glued to the screen through
the commercials. We've got this one under control The worst thing
you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we're doing
over here, because you have no idea what we're doing, and really,
you don't want to know. We are your military, and we are doing
what you sent us here to do.
Recon Marine in Afghanistan
"Freedom is not free...but the U.S. Marine Corps will pay most of
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank
check made payable to 'The United States of America ' for an
amount of 'up to and including my life.' That is Honor, and there
are way too many people in this country who no longer understand
Friday, April 16, 2010
ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Some commanders call it a "tactical pause" to give time for additional U.S. and allied troops to surge into the country. Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the operational commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, calls it "repositioning." Others say the reduced "optempo" is just part of a "realignment" necessary to prepare for a major offensive in Kandahar this June. The troops use a different term of art.
"This is b---s---," said one junior officer. He continued, "It's not the (rules of engagement). None of us has a problem with reducing the incidence of civilian casualties. But we need to stay on the offensive here if we're going to win." One soldier, after being told to "stand down" just before heading out on a night ambush, said, "We're being held hostage inside the wire." So it's apparent that -- whatever they're called -- offensive operations have been scaled back. That means Taliban insurgents are getting a breather they don't deserve.
In interviews with senior officers, I was reminded that Gen. Stanley McChrystal's "population-centric" counterinsurgency strategy mandates the primary mission of U.S. and allied troops be to protect the civilian population. The soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with whom I have been embedded -- both conventional and special operations troops -- don't object to that goal. But they are complaining they are being restricted from conducting offensive operations against an enemy who will take advantage of the reduced optempo.
South of here in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, the period from mid-April to mid-June is opium-harvesting season. Since 2002, when the Taliban turned to heroin to support their insurgency, it has been a time when "migrant workers" cross the border from Pakistan to work the poppy fields. It is also an opportunity for Taliban leaders to collect their cut of the "opium tax."
Despite Taliban claims to Islamic purity, they collect a tax of 300-400 grams of opium per Jereeb of cultivated poppy-growing land. One Jereeb is 2,000 square meters -- about half the size of a U.S. football field. The tax rate is based on the "ushr," a traditional Islamic tax of one-tenth of the produce of agricultural land that in normal times is collected by the neighborhood mosque and redistributed as social welfare to the local needy. It's an Islamic version of wealth redistribution. The timing of the tax collection is dependent on the local harvest season.
Last summer, plans were drawn up to interdict cross-border "ratlines" as a means of defunding the Taliban. But the Obama administration's five-month delay in "surging" additional U.S. troops and trainers to Afghanistan has resulted in too few "boots on the ground" to shut down the frontier. As a consequence, the effort to reduce this spring's opium harvest is being limited to a "test case" in the recently secured Marjah district of central Helmand.
Though the Marjah operation -- and parallel efforts by the International Security Assistance Force in Nad Ali, Now Zad and Garmsir -- resulted in reduced opium production, the Karzai government in Kabul has been slow to capitalize on the gains elsewhere in the country. Only 27 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces currently have full-time provincial reconstruction teams in operation. Some Afghan national security forces, such as the commando kandaks that are partnered with U.S. special operations units, are well-trained and well-equipped, but many are barely prepared.
Our Fox News team has accompanied more than two dozen combined U.S./Afghan units on combat operations -- and seen the full spectrum of the readiness of Afghan security forces. On one such mission last week, U.S. personnel were stunned when the Afghan National Army company commander they had been advising "declined" to board the Mi-17 helicopters carrying his troops on a cordon and search operation.
Perhaps he "stayed home" because he knew his men better than we did. During the mission -- led by a capable Afghan sergeant -- only a handful of his troops exhibited the slightest tactical proficiency. Carrying their AK-47s slung over their shoulders seemed to be SOP. The platoon's machine-gunner ditched his Kevlar helmet. In its stead, he wore a white turban around his head. Chuck Holton, my former U.S. Army Ranger cameraman, and I spent the day staying as far from him as we could, knowing he was Target No. 1 for a sniper. Thankfully, the Taliban were out to lunch -- or went to ground to prevent being spotted on the thermal sights of the Apache helicopters overhead.
There are some very good, brave and competent Afghan soldiers and police, but not enough. The commandos and narcotics interdiction units we have seen are the kind of troops you want on your flank in a gunfight. Unfortunately, the "tactical pause" now under way in Afghanistan won't help any of them get any better -- or help our troops do what they know they can do: win!