Monday, November 10, 2008

Afstan: “Basically,” he said, “we’re the bullet sponge.”

The start of a long story about US Army soldiers at an isolated forward base:
COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan — The small stone castle, sandbagged and bristling with weapons and American soldiers, rises from a rock spur beside the Landai River. Mountains lean overhead.

Once a hunting lodge for Mohammad Zahir Shah, Afghanistan’s last king, the castle is home for a year for an American cavalry troop, an Afghan infantry company, a Navy corpsman and two American marines. In the deadly contest for Afghanistan’s borderlands, it plays what might seem a singularly unattractive role. The position lies exposed near the bottom of a natural amphitheater deep within territory out of government control.

[Map moved from position in story.]

Insurgents hide in caves surrounding it and in villages nearby, operating unhindered almost to the castle’s concertina wire and lobbing mortar shells toward it at will. The steep slopes facing the walls are littered with shattered boulders and trees blown to splinters by the artillery and airstrikes with which the soldiers have fought back.

The Americans’ mission is to disrupt the Taliban and foreign fighters on supply paths from Pakistan’s tribal areas [note Bajaur Agency due south--and Pakistani use of air strikes]. Col. John Spiszer, the commanding officer for the larger task force in the region, distilled how the mission often worked. The American presence, he said, is a Taliban magnet, drawing insurgents from more populated areas and enhancing security elsewhere.

First Lt. Daniel Wright, the executive officer of the American cavalry unit — Apache Troop of the Sixth Battalion, Fourth Cavalry — put things in foxhole terms.

“Basically,” he said, “we’re the bullet sponge.”

That analogy is a measure of the profound and enduring difficulties in the war in Afghanistan, which this year became more deadly for Americans than the Iraq conflict. President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to refocus the Pentagon on winning this war, now in its eighth year.

In roughly four months, Apache Troop has taken fire on at least 70 days. The attacks have come by rocket, mortar, machine gun and rifle fire. The troop’s patrols have been ambushed. Its observation posts have been hit by rocket fire...
Here's a slideshow.


Blogger vmijpp said...

Re the photos, they are all of course well-composed but do you notice a theme, or shall I say, AN IO MESSAGE? The good guys are shown tired, wounded, head down, or under fire, or flailing. DO NOT TRUST THE NY TIMES. They might as well be the paid agents of a hostile foreign power.

2:12 p.m., November 10, 2008  
Blogger Jay Crawford said...

It seems reminiscent of the Khe Sahn "Honeypot" strategy which used an exposed (but heavily defended) American position to draw out the enemy based on his hopes for a symbolic victory over American forces (which he would then cast as another Dien Bien Phu). (Indeed, part of that strategy for suckering in the enemy involved making little attempt to aggressively control the surrounding area, thereby reinforcing the enemy's perception of the FOB as "weak".) Then, when that enemy takes the bait and concentrates his forces, those forces are blasted by American air power and artillery.
The reporters didn't understand what was happening in 1968 and still don't understand now. That may be good; maybe then the Taliban's fellow travellers who read the NYT won't understand it until their friends attack...and the firestorm descends upon them.

4:48 p.m., November 10, 2008  
Blogger holdfast said...

“Basically,” he said, “we’re the bullet sponge.”

Some would say that is the definition of the Army vis a vis the civillian populace. As long at AQ and their ilk are attacking our heavily armed troops in places like Afstan and Iraq, they are not attacking unarmed civillians at the local mall or in office buildings. This little base is like a microcosm of that larger strategy.

1:31 p.m., November 11, 2008  

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