[Afghan News] October 20, 2012 - 10-21-2012, 03:14 PM
By Heidi Vogt,Mirwais Khan, The Associated Press
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - An Afghan police officer and cook poisoned their colleagues at a checkpoint in an assault co-ordinated with insurgent fighters that left six dead in the country's south, officials said Saturday.
It was the latest in a string of attacks from inside the Afghan army and police that are threatening to undermine both the partnership with international troops — which have been the target of many attacks — and the morale of Afghan forces, who have suffered equally heavy casualties from such strikes.
The police officer and the cook worked with outside insurgents in the assault, which hit police manning a checkpoint in the Gereskh district of Helmand province, the governor's office said in a statement.
They poisoned two of the officers and then the militants attacked from outside, killing the remaining four officers, provincial spokesman Ahmad Zirak said. He did not say how the officers were poisoned. The police officer was captured as he fled, but the cook escaped and remains at large, Zirak added.
The insurgent gunmen escaped by motorcycle with weapons and ammunition, the governor's statement said.
A recent upsurge in the number of insider attacks on coalition troops by Afghan soldiers or police — or insurgents disguised in their uniforms — has further undermined public support for the war in the West. So far this year, at least 52 foreign troops — about half of them Americans — have been killed in insider attacks.
The Afghan government has not provided statistics on the number of its forces killed in insider attacks. However, U.S. military statistics obtained by The Associated Press show at least 53 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed by the end of August.
Meanwhile, a Taliban attack elsewhere in Helmand killed two district community council members, while Taliban-fired rocket-propelled grenades destroyed a warehouse full of food destined for the main U.S. base in Afghanistan.
Insurgents ambushed the council members while they were driving to a tribal meeting in the volatile Sangin district, the governor's office said in its statement, adding that the attackers escaped and police are pursuing them.
The attack against the council members is a reminder of the other worrying trend in insurgent tactics this year — a shift toward more targeted killings of those affiliated with the government. The United Nations has recorded a sharp increase in such killings in the first six months of 2012 as compared with the same period of 2011.
In the warehouse attack, insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at a compound used by military contractor Supreme Group to store food and other supplies destined for Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in the country. A warehouse inside the compound caught fire in the assault and burned through the night.
"The local fire brigade attended the scene and brought the fire under control, but the warehouse itself and all contents were destroyed," Victoria Frost, a spokeswoman for Supreme Group in Dubai, wrote in an email. She said no one was injured and staff at the site did not have to evacuate.
The fire could still be seen burning Saturday morning, said Mohammad Asif, the deputy administrator for Bagram district, where the compound is located. He said the Supreme compound encompasses about five hectares (12 acres).
Frost said the fire was contained much earlier.
"As with any major fire, there are some areas still smouldering but there is no current danger to any of the staff or the other buildings within the compound," she said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email that the fire at the Supreme Group compound destroyed a "large stock of food meant for U.S. troops."
Frost did not say how much material was destroyed though she did say it was "primarily food supplies," adding that the company was working to make up the loss with inventory from other warehouses.
Vogt reported from Kabul. Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report in Kabul.
Al-Qaida in Afghanistan is attempting a comeback
By DEB RIECHMANN and ROBERT BURNS | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A diminished but resilient al-Qaida, whose 9/11 attacks drew America into its longest war, is attempting a comeback in Afghanistan's mountainous east even as U.S. and allied forces wind down their combat mission and concede a small but steady toehold to the terrorist group.
That concerns U.S. commanders, who have intensified strikes against al-Qaida cells in recent months. It also undercuts an Obama administration narrative portraying al-Qaida as battered to the point of being a nonissue in Afghanistan as Western troops start leaving.
When he visited Afghanistan in May to mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, President Barack Obama said his administration had turned the tide of war. "The goal that I set — to defeat al-Qaida, and deny it a chance to rebuild — is within reach," he said.
As things stand, however, an unquestionably weakened al-Qaida appears to have preserved at least limited means of regenerating inside Afghanistan as U.S. influence in the country wanes. The last U.S. combat troops are scheduled to be gone by Dec. 31, 2014, and security matters turned over to the Afghan government.
"They are trying to increase their numbers and take advantage of the Americans leaving," the police chief of Paktika province, Gen. Dawlat Khan Zadran, said through a translator in an interview this month in the governor's compound. He mentioned no numbers, but said al-Qaida has moved more weapons across the border from Pakistan.
For years the main target of U.S.-led forces has been the Taliban, rulers of Afghanistan and protectors of al-Qaida before the U.S. invasion 11 years ago. But the strategic goal is to prevent al-Qaida from again finding haven in Afghanistan from which to launch attacks on the U.S.
Al-Qaida's leadership fled in late 2001 to neighboring Pakistan, where it remains.
The group remains active inside Afghanistan, fighting U.S. troops, spreading extremist messages, raising money, recruiting young Afghans and providing military expertise to the Taliban and other radical groups.
U.S. Gen. John Allen, the top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, has said al-Qaida has re-emerged, and although its numbers are small, he says the group doesn't need a large presence to be influential.
U.S. officials say they are committed, even after the combat mission ends in 2014, to doing whatever it takes to prevent a major resurgence. The Americans intend, for example, to have special operation forces at the ready to keep a long-term lid on al-Qaida inside Afghanistan.
"Al-Qaida could try to reconstitute itself, but they would do so at their own peril given the intense pressure they and other terrorist groups are facing in Afghanistan," Pentagon press secretary George Little said Saturday.
A more immediate worry is the threat posed by the growing presence of al-Qaida and affiliated groups in Yemen, Somalia and across a broad swath of North Africa, where it is believed al-Qaida-linked militants may have been responsible for the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
U.S. and Afghan officials say al-Qaida also has been building ties with like-minded Islamic militant groups present in Afghanistan, including Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the November 2008 rampage in Mumbai, India, that killed 166 people, and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which is present in the north.
Ahmadullah Mowahed, a member of the Afghan parliament from the eastern province of Nuristan, along the Pakistan border, said he fears the departure of American combat forces will open the way for the Taliban and al-Qaida to overwhelm the provincial government.
"As soon as they leave, the eyes of al-Qaida will quickly focus on Nuristan," he said.
U.S. analysts say there is reason for concern that al-Qaida is down, but not out.
"They've been hit hard in a few cases, but they definitely are involved in the fight — absolutely," said Seth G. Jones, a senior political scientist at RAND Corp.
Jones, a former adviser to the commander of U.S. special operations forces in Afghanistan, recently returned from a trip to eastern Afghanistan where he learned that al-Qaida's support network has expanded and its relations with groups such as the Pakistani-based Haqqani network are strong.
"That's a very serious concern because that kind of environment would allow al-Qaida to continue to operate, at least at a small level, because it's a workable environment for them, he said.
Richard Barrett, head of a U.N. group that monitors the threat posed by al-Qaida and the Taliban, said al-Qaida fears the Taliban will strike a deal with the Afghan government that would make the group all but irrelevant.
"So they will be doing whatever they can to assert their influence, to assert their presence" in Afghanistan, he said.
At least for now, al-Qaida in Afghanistan has no capability to launch attacks on the U.S., although commanders are taking no chances.
Little-noticed fragmentary U.S. military accounts of raids and strikes against al-Qaida in the northeastern provinces of Kunar and Nuristan show the group retains a command structure inside Afghanistan. On May 27 the U.S. killed the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan, Saudi national Sakhr al-Taifi, in Kunar, but it has yet to catch up to the top al-Qaida commander in the country, identified by U.S. officials as Farouk al-Qahtani, who resides in Nuristan.
In early September the international military coalition announced the death of an al-Qaida operative, Abu Saif, described as an associate of an al-Qaida leader killed along with several of his fighters July 1 in Kunar. Saif was called a conduit between senior al-Qaida leaders in Pakistan and Afghanistan, passing messages between them. In the most recent strike, officials said Sept. 27 they killed al-Qaida "facilitator" Abdul Rauf in Kunar. He was a Pakistani coordinator of foreign fighters' movements into Afghanistan and a builder of improvised explosive devices for attacks on coalition troops.
Interviews with Afghan officials suggest that al-Qaida also is present in other parts of the country, including the northwestern province of Faryab as well as Logar province, just south of Kabul.
Logar's provincial chief of police, Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Roogh Lawanay, said it is difficult to know how many militants are directly affiliated with al-Qaida, but he estimated their numbers in Logar at 100 to 150.
"Al-Qaida is very active. It is like fish. When one fish dies, another comes," he said in a recent interview. "The determination of these Arab fighters is high."
In interviews in Kabul and Washington, U.S. officials said they are satisfied that al-Qaida is so small inside Afghanistan — they put the number at between 50 and 100 fighters — that they can be contained indefinitely if the Afghan government allows U.S. counterterrorism forces to monitor and hunt the remnants. U.S. and Afghan officials are working to craft talks on a bilateral security agreement that could include such an arrangement.
Al-Qaida's numbers, however, don't tell the whole story.
Allen has said al-Qaida has learned to leverage its presence in Afghanistan to give the impression of having withstood U.S. military might and to burnish its image as a global force.
U.S. commanders say they will keep pressure on al-Qaida to frustrate its goals, but few believe al-Qaida will be gone before U.S. troops leave.
"I see no evidence to suggest that it will be eliminated by 2014," said Jones, the RAND analyst.
Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.
Robert Burns can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/robertburnsAP
Toofan Harirod land first Afghan title
BUSINESS RECORDER By Asad Naeem Friday, 19 October 2012
KABUL - Toofan (Typhoon) Harirod, representing the western province of Herat and neighbouring districts, landed the first Afghan championship on Friday after seeing off Simorgh Alborz from Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, 2-1.
The Afghan Football Federation's modest venue was packed with some 4,000 fans eager to see the denouement of the first Afghan Premier League (APL) season.
Both finalists, like their other six fellow teams in the competition, only came into existence a few weeks ago but already fans have nailed their colours firmly to the mast with Herat fans waving blue flags while Mazar followers sported orange.
In a country which has only too much experience of violence, there was tragedy, however, as well as sporting achievement as nine fans en route from the north to the capital were killed when their bus collided with a lorry.
Police said as many as 36 people were injured.
Alborz defender Hassan Ali said his team should take heart from their showing even in the wake of their defeat.
"Losing is not very important. Today we didn't have a chance," he said. "They were too strong. Yes, my dreams are broken, but my parents must still be happy. Second position is not that bad," the 21-year-old insisted.
Toofan's Hamid Habibi, who dreams of one day playing for his favourite club, Spain's Real Madrid, said for his part: "I feel very happy, excited. As a herati (Herat native) man, I feel that I'm a hero for the whole world and for Afghanistan".
The tournament was a chance for the war-ravaged Afghanistan to show a different face with the Taliban having promised, according to organisers, not to mount any attacks on the event.
U.S. Sees Shift for Afghan Special Ops
Elite Forces Will Take Noncombat Roles, Says Commander, as Troops Withdraw
Wall Street Journal By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS October 19, 2012
SARKANI, Afghanistan - Elite U.S. special-operations troops are preparing to shift to a rear-guard role in Afghanistan when the main allied forces withdraw at the end of next year, according to their commander.
U.S. Army Special Forces and other elite American troops expect to stay but will shift from the battlefield to rear positions such as the defense and interior ministries, helping improve Afghan command-and-control capabilities, said U.S. Maj. Gen. Tony Thomas, who commands U.S. and coalition Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, in an interview.
His remarks are some of the most detailed yet about the U.S. military's expectations of its role after most conventional troops leave. Special operations units are currently advisers to their Afghan counterparts and they fight alongside each other, a situation many expected to prevail after the drawdown.
Pulling back from the front lines would likely reduce the risk of U.S. casualties in a war that has already claimed more than 2,000 American lives and might make a long-term presence in Afghanistan more palatable to a war-weary American public.
This thinking is one reason the U.S. is urgently pushing to prepare Afghan special operators—police SWAT teams, army commandos and special-forces strike teams—to conduct night raids, capture top-level insurgent leaders and defend against Taliban terror attacks with an ever-decreasing need for U.S. assistance.
"Two years from now, they better be a lot better," Gen. Thomas said by telephone. "If they are better, we can afford to be at a more detached level."
Such a scenario would return the Afghan war closer to the way it was fought in 2001, when elite U.S. troops assisted Afghan rebels in overthrowing the Taliban, by coordinating U.S. airstrikes and providing battlefield advice. The large influx of conventional allied forces came later, culminating in the troop surge that President Barack Obama ordered in 2009, bringing the U.S. presence to more than 100,000 troops.
The U.S. and its allies have already announced plans to withdraw tens of thousands of conventional forces by the end of 2014. What happens to those left behind—and whether there will be troops left behind at all—is now the subject of U.S.-Afghan talks on a long-term bilateral-security agreement, which will likely hinge on whether Kabul grants U.S. troops immunity from Afghan law. Failure to reach such a deal scuttled plans to keep some forces in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal last year.
Assuming the talks are successful, Western officials have talked of an enduring U.S. presence between a few thousand and 20,000 troops, not all of them special-operations forces. While Gen. Thomas oversees elite units from Hungary, Norway and other coalition partners, these countries will negotiate their own deals with the Afghan government.
Presidential elections in the U.S. next month and Afghanistan in 2014 could also complicate the outcome. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has endorsed the 2014 timetable, but said the precise extent of the withdrawals should be based on local conditions, so as not to signal an exact timeline to the Taliban. He has criticized the U.S. for not leaving a residual counterterrorism force in Iraq, suggesting he would push for that in Afghanistan.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, is planning for its preferred outcome. Elite coalition forces no longer conduct missions on their own, according to their commander; missions include Afghan counterparts.
In Sarkani in eastern Afghanistan, Green Berets and Hungarian special operators are training an Afghan paramilitary SWAT unit called the Provincial Response Company, one of 19 nationwide that conduct hostage rescues, high-risk arrests and weapons seizures. The government has some 4,000 such special police officers.
This month, the Sarkani SWAT team captured an alleged insurgent named Saidullah, who is accused of providing supplies to the Taliban. Based on U.S. intelligence, Maj. Sayeed Afandi, the unit commander, knew that Saidullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name, was in the nearby town of Asadabad. The major found him in a restaurant, sent his driver inside in civilian clothes to confirm his identity, and then arrested Saidullah himself.
When the Afghans spotted 15 to 20 insurgents on the ridgeline above their base this month, however, it was the Americans who fired artillery at the fighters' positions.
Elite units in general are especially useful because of the tactics of insurgents. It is uncommon for large groups of fighters to try to take over entire districts or overrun allied positions. Massed fighters draw coalition airstrikes and risk large insurgent casualties. who tend to operate in small teams, planting bombs and conducting hit-and-run or suicide attacks. "Overall, the insurgency is a small force operating in small groups," said the commander of the Afghan Crisis Response Unit, a paramilitary SWAT team in Kabul. "Their strategy to do blitzkrieg operations failed."
In April, the Crisis Response Unit was called in to clear insurgents who had taken over three buildings in Kabul. The Afghans swept the buildings and killed the insurgents, with close support from their Norwegian advisers, who assisted with intelligence, communications and coordination.
"It's like walking your kid to school and holding his hand," said Australian Brig. Gen. Mark Smethhurst, a senior commander of allied special-operations troops. "We're still holding their hands."
Cooperation with Afghans has been tested by a recent surge in attacks on coalition forces by local troops, known as green-on-blue attacks. The decision whether or not to continue them was left up to the discretion of local commanders.
Allied and Afghan commanders say they are seeing improvements that should allow elite Afghan units to conduct battlefield operations on their own after 2014, even if they need foreign assistance at higher levels, including air support and resupply.
Last month, special police units conducted 299 missions, 80% of which were led by the Afghans, while the foreign advisers led the rest, according to allied and Afghan commanders. Some 15% to 20% of elite police operations involved no foreign assistance, a senior Afghan commander said. —Nathan Hodge in Kabul contributed to this article.
Write to Michael M. Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org
Not losing in Afghanistan
Washington Post By John A. Nagl Opinion Saturday, October 20, 2012
John A. Nagl is a retired Army officer, who served in both wars in Iraq, and a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is the author of “Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife.”
Americans haven’t lost a war in so long, we’ve forgotten what doing so looks like — and what it costs. The only war that we undeniably lost was the Vietnam War; thrown out of the country literally under fire, we abandoned our allies to a horrific fate and left behind a legacy of terror in the region, breaking our Army in the process.
Despite the miasma of discontent with the effort, the United States and its many allies are not losing in Afghanistan. The spate of “green on blue” killings of U.S. soldiers by members of the Afghan security forces — some Taliban infiltrators, but mostly disgruntled or frustrated Afghans after a decade of foreign occupation — is a serious threat to our partnership strategy. After a temporary stand-down, to allow reactions to cartoons and videos caricaturing the prophet Muhammad to pass, joint patrols have resumed. We are proceeding with our plan to hand over primary responsibility for security to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
This will allow the United States to accomplish our national security objectives in the region: defeating al-Qaeda; preventing al-Qaeda and its affiliates from establishing permanent bases in Afghanistan and the tribal regions of Pakistan; and maintaining our own bases in the region from which to operate drones, manned aircraft and Special Operations forces. Calls for a more rapid and complete withdrawal ignore the geopolitical realities and threats that first led to U.S. intervention after the Sept. 11 , 2001, attacks — and that will continue to require armed U.S. assistance for decades to come.
Put simply, stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan matters to the United States. Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world for U.S. interests. It is afflicted by multiple insurgencies, including radical Islamists in its security forces. There are serious security concerns about its nuclear stockpile, which is the world’s fourth-largest and fastest-growing. And it has the worst proliferation record of any nuclear power. Pakistan’s government and security forces have proven unwilling or unable to stop the infiltration into Afghanistan of insurgents based within its borders. Pakistan is the core problem in the region; the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to cooperate with Pakistan and wage an undeclared war within its borders rather than engage in open war with a nuclear power. Cooperating with Pakistan to the extent that Islamabad is willing to do so is unpalatable — but all of the alternatives are worse.
We will bear the heavy burden of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan for years. U.S. soldiers will continue to serve in the region, assisting Afghan (and sometimes Pakistani) security forces against threats to the stability of both nations, conducting raids on insurgents and terrorists and preventing a broader war in South Asia. This is what success looks like in such wars.
U.S. forces continue to perform similar functions in countries around the globe where we have fought and won our wars; they remain stationed in Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Bosnia. They will remain in Afghanistan as a sign of our continued vital interest in the region, which remains ground zero for global terrorism and nuclear proliferation, the most dangerous threats to U.S. security in this century.
There are no U.S. forces stationed in Vietnam. We lost that one.
In addition to the geopolitical costs of failure, losing a war also breaks an army. By the conclusion of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army was a drug-riddled and undisciplined force incapable of serving our nation under fire. Today, our Army is the most combat-experienced in American history. When the all-volunteer force was created in the waning days of Vietnam, no one could have predicted that it would survive more than 11 years of continuous war; that it has endured and, in many ways, grown stronger through this decade of conflict is a tribute to the Army’s leadership.
Even as the war in Afghanistan continues, all Americans must shoulder the responsibility to care for those who have borne the battle on our behalf. The nation has a sacred obligation to care for the widows and orphans and wounded veterans, binding their wounds, demonstrating our respect for those who have fought in this longest of all our many wars — one that is far more likely to end in success, even if it is an unsatisfying one, than in failure.
A friend of mine who fought in Vietnam and then helped rebuild the broken Army stayed in the service to see its triumph in Operation Desert Storm. He likes to say, “I’ve tried losing, and I’ve tried winning. Winning is better.”
Winning, or at least not losing, in Afghanistan, is certainly better than the alternative. It is worth remembering what losing a war looks like, and what it costs to lose a war, as the United States considers its political leadership and the way ahead in Afghanistan.
Women soldiers' role in Afghan frontline villages caught on camera
British women serving in Helmand photographed meeting village women trying to get their voices heard
The Guardian By Nick Hopkins Friday 19 October 2012
The decade-long war in Afghanistan has been the focus of countless books and exhibitions, but there is one view of the conflict that has not been described well – until now.
The Royal British Legion commissioned a photographer to accompany women serving in the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan. The aim was to highlight the roles they perform, which rarely grab the headlines but have become a critical part of the military's strategy.
Spending weeks embedded with UK forces in Helmand province, the photographer Alison Baskerville, herself a former member of the RAF, followed two women who had one of the most difficult jobs in the country, though it did not involve shooting at the Taliban. Lieutenant Jessica French, 26, and Captain Anna Crossley, 32, spent six months going into villages and small settlements to talk to the women and try to earn their trust.
Male soldiers are forbidden from going into the village compounds. French and Crossley volunteered for the role. "Most of the women I met didn't leave their compounds," said Crossley. "They hadn't seen a white woman, let along a white western woman in army kit who can speak Pashtu."
Crossley was stationed in the northern reaches of the Upper Gereshk Valley, one of the most troubled areas of the most troubled province, Helmand. Communities are tightly knit, wary of outsiders, and often sympathetic to the insurgency. But even in such traditionally patriarchal areas, women are trying to get their voices heard, and are beginning to defy their husbands and families to speak out.
"Some of the women we spoke to did not want to talk about the security, but others had very strong opinions about what we should be doing in Afghanistan, and what the Afghans should be doing," said French. On most days, French and Crossley would go on patrol with other soldiers.
When they approached communities, they would take off their helmets, set aside their weapons, and seek out the wives. "They are in the frontline, but they have to walk into the compounds, take off their helmets and suddenly become more feminine," said Baskerville.
Crossley and French said they met some incredibly brave women, some of whom were putting their lives at risk either by speaking out, or deciding to work. A few have even joined the local police.
But in the hinterland of the Upper Gureshk valley, time has stood still for decades.
"In the areas where I was working there is still a long way to go," said Crossley. "There are so many things that need to happen. Sadly, they have been a little bit left behind."
Access to education is the key to a better future for the women of Helmand, said French, who is likely to return to Afghanistan for another six-month tour in 2014.
"It's a tough world," she added. "But some of the women we met were so determined and positive. I hope they have a better future ahead of them."
The White Picture - The Hidden World of Women in Combat can be seen at the Oxo Gallery on the South Bank, London, from 25 October until 11 November, Remembrance Sunday
NORTH: Young blood still on the line in Afghanistan
Looking to the future in a war-torn region
The Washington Times By Oliver North Friday, October 19, 2012
HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN - “Don’t either of them even know we’re still fighting over here?” That question was posed by one of the U.S. Marines with whom we have been keeping company in southwestern Afghanistan. His query followed this week’s presidential debate at Hofstra University, during which the word “Afghanistan” was uttered only once in the 90-minute exchange between the two men bidding to be commander in chief.
Last year when we were in this part of Helmand province, there were four Marine battalions providing security and mentoring Afghan soldiers and police. Now there is just one — 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment — the last Fleet Marine Force unit in which I served. I admit to bias in favor of these young Marines, with whom I share a special bond.
Since our two-man Fox News team arrived last month, Chuck Holton and I have traveled much of the same ground we covered on previous trips when we were reporting on Americans and our allies in this long war. On this trip, we have interviewed, listened to, documented and hiked many miles with nearly 700 of the 68,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines remaining in Afghanistan.
We also have spoken with hundreds of American contractor personnel — more than on any of our previous trips. That’s because there are so many required to implement the Obama administration’s “exit strategy.” In a surreal exercise of political and financial accounting, we now have civilians performing essential tasks that U.S. military personnel used to carry out before the “Obama drawdown” began in the midst of this year’s “fighting season.” Because civilian contractors do not count in the military end-strength numbers, the White House and Pentagon can show they are “ending operations in Afghanistan on schedule.”
As the members of 3/8 begin their retrogression back to the United States, they are bringing with them tens of millions of dollars’ worth of heavy equipment accumulated over the past 11 years of war. It’s a herculean feat requiring a full-time, 24/7 effort. On outposts soon to be turned over to Afghan forces or “demilitarized” and abandoned, the troops pull security duty, go on patrols, train the local Afghan army and police, and pack, load and move 26-ton armored vehicles, mine-clearing equipment, trucks, generators, communications gear, water and fuel systems, and entire armories.
The work goes on day and night.
There is little time for meals, a shower or rest, much less talk of politics at home. Nonetheless, some of them do find time. To the extent they can, they follow the debates — particularly on larger bases where contractor-provided dining facilities offer air conditioning and big-screen televisions.
Here’s a brief summary of what we have seen and heard since we arrived here last month. Some of it is considerably different from the reporting at home:
There is an overwhelming sense of disappointment at the lack of attention being paid to America’s longest war by the presidential campaigns. Over a cup of coffee, I asked a senior staff noncommissioned officer for his opinion. He’s on his fifth combat tour since Sept. 11, 2001, three times here and twice to Iraq, where he was wounded by enemy fire. His assessment: “Early on, people cared. But now, the only people who even know about us being over here are our families. You’re the first news team we’ve seen on this deployment. The press doesn’t even mention us except when something bad happens, and our politicians don’t acknowledge us at all. We came back here last spring at the beginning of fighting season. Some of us will be home for Thanksgiving. Hopefully, we will all be home for Christmas. I hope the election changes things. This war shouldn’t end like [Vietnam].”
Then there is the matter of whether military personnel overseas are able to cast absentee ballots. We asked nearly 700 members of the U.S. armed forces about any problems encountered in getting or casting a ballot. Only four said they had experienced any problems whatsoever.
One of the Marines put it this way: “When the company first sergeant says ‘Give blood,’ we line up to give blood. When he tells us to sign up for an allotment to support the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society or Toys for Tots, we do it. When he tells us to register to vote, we do that, too. We’re not stupid.”
All true. There may be fewer brave, young Americans serving in this difficult and dangerous place than the last time we were here, but those who volunteered to come here still inspire me. I hope they will inspire you, too — even if you don’t have a first sergeant.
Oliver North is host of “War Stories” on the Fox News Channel and author of the new novel “Heroes Proved” (Threshold Editions, 2012).
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