Random Thought #505

•August 5, 2010 • 7 Comments

The dust in the air made sunset tonight a spectacular affair. The sky, streaked with long tendrils of cloud, was lit blood-red by the setting sun which, itself, dropped like a glowing coal behind a row of dunes. As I sat smoking (in my usual spot) and reflecting on the day, the muezzin in my guard compound tapped his microphone twice, cleared his throat, then broke into the Adhan in a clear and sonorous voice. Fat little sparrows bounced and chirped on the razor wire and two Mirage 2000D of l’Armee de l’Air roared overhead and banked to the north to line up for their finals into KAF.

It made me think. My boy can’t decide right now between being a chef (don’t do it son: slavery and bastardisation in the kitchen for no life and minimum wage) or a paratrooper like his old dad. Watching those Mirages I thought “Now there’s a way to go to war.” Son, work hard at your maths and physics and you can do that. Couple of missions a day then back to the Mess in time for tea and medals. Flight pay, soft beds and good food – what a deal! And when you’re older, you’ll appreciate the almost mystical relationship betwen pilots’ wings and the best looking woman in the room….

Mind you, boy, there isn’t a finer group of men on earth than those that jump into the unknown under a silk canopy…..

KAF Attacked

•August 3, 2010 • 1 Comment

At around 1200 today two rockets impacting in KAF preceded a ground attack from the southwest that involved a tractor packed with explosives and attempt to breach the perimeter wall. The fire fight went on for about an hour, with KAF responding with ground forces and gunships before the bad guys fled – apparently getting clean away (I haven’t heard of any captures or killed).

There were no (known) casualties inside KAF as far as I’m aware. As soon as it happened we took certain steps and I spent two hours on the wall watching the choppers buzzing around like maddened hornets, and scanning the desert to my west for any signs of movement. It’s a worry because the bad guys nearly always hit KAF from the north – putting the place squarely between us and them – but today it was from the south, and doubtless launched within easy striking distance from here. The fact that the attack was staged in the middle of the day is also a concerning new development.

The bad guys have been pretty laid-back lately when it comes to KAF but today signalled a clear intent to not go ‘quietly into the night’.

Update 4 Aug: The tractor was not used as a VBIED but as cover for a BBIED team to approach the fence before detonating. The tractor, apparantly, had been passing that way daily for some time to establish a pattern of movement to lull any observers in KAF. The entire enemy assault team (reportedly 10) were killed in the attack.

Highway To Hell: Part 2

•July 30, 2010 • 4 Comments

Another bad few days on HWY 1. More KIA from small arms fire, RPGs and IEDs.  More WIA with horrendous GSW (mostly to upper body and abdomen).  We are being ambushed or contacted every day and, often, more than twice a day. It used to be rare for the one convoy to be hit twice in the same day but that is fast becoming the norm as we negotiate ambush alley daily where, from the gardens and houses that line the route, the bad guys operate at will.

During an ambush yesterday near Hawz-e Madad, and subsequent firefight, three empty tankers were hit by RPG fire and exploded. There’s nothing the bad guys like more than a photo of a burning tanker – bad PR for ISAF.  We lost a guard killed and two wounded.

Sure, the hajjis scored three tankers but ninety fulls got through – that’s 3.5 million litres that got to the FOBs and the MRAPs and the gunships.

Random Thought #476

•July 27, 2010 • 5 Comments

Every night, at about the same time just after last light, I sit out on the Hesco wall, smoke and turn over the day in my mind – How did we do?  What went wrong? What went right?  How can we do better? That sort of thing….

And every night, at the same time, a UAV flies overhead, at about 8000 – 10000’(my best guess), on the same track.  Every night I look up and wave at the drone as it putters its way over my compound and out to the east. It’s become a sort of ritual for me and gives me a strange sense of ease and calm.

I wonder if, every night, some UAV pilot somewhere spots me with his FLIR – and god-knows what other technical wizardry – says: “There’s that guy again,” and gives me a wave back.

Knives, Guns and Ancient Feuds

•July 22, 2010 • 5 Comments

It’s amazing what you learn when you take the time to ask.

I was chatting, through one of my terps, to the 2IC of one of my guard forces yesterday when he said something that struck me as unusual. It had to do with the Taliban and the north of the country, so I asked him to explain.  It turns out this man, who I see and speak with daily and who, with his diminutive stature and wrinkled, benign face, looks like an old shop-keeper (or what I’d expect an old shop-keeper to look like), is a former mujahideen commander and, more recently, a commander with the UIF (more commonly known as the Northern Alliance).

None of that was much of a surprise – most of our senior men are former Mujahideen – but I was fascinated nonetheless so I pulled up a chair, pulled two ‘Cokes’ from the fridge and we got talking. He joined the ‘Muj’ in the late 70’s to fight the Soviet backed DRA and stayed on to fight the Soviets themselves after the invasion. “He say,” said the terp “that he kill many, many Russians.” “I’m sure he did,” I responded. “Yes, many with guns and many with knife,” added the terp and my skin crawled as I looked into the old boy’s glinting eyes.  He and the terp rattled on for a bit then the former stood up and raised his shirt – which in itself was a startling thing for a conservative Afghan to do – and started pointing at the scars on his torso and back. Burns scars, frag scars, gun-shot entry and exit wounds.

After the ‘show-and-tell’ he sat down and rattled off for a while. I turned to the terp.  “He say many, many Taliban also boss,” he said. “Taliban kills his family, wife, sons and daughter. Much plenty no good.”  I turned to the old boy and we stared at each other as the terp went on. “So, *** make vow: kill Taliban’s wifes and childrens. Kill all Taliban.”

We sat looking at one another for a few seconds then the old boy nodded, gave me a thumbs-up and left the Ops Room. Sitting there, I finally realised that there will be no end to this war.  When the west is gone and the people of Afghanistan are left to themselves, men like him and their sons and their sons’ sons and their nephews, brothers and uncles will fight on, avenging age-old injustices and tribal and family honour.  They’ve been doing it since before Alexander crossed this land and aren’t about to change their ways now.

It is not something my sheltered, western mind finds easy to grasp and I’m feeling a bit out of my depth right now.

Highway to Hell

•July 20, 2010 • 4 Comments

It’s been a busy day on Highway 1.

One convoy, en-route to Bastion, was engaged at about 0930hrs with small arms fire from about a section-size group of insurgents using abandoned houses and gardens 300m south of the MSR as cover. Our guards dismounted from their vehicles and returned fire. Fortunately, this time, no injuries or damages were reported and the convoy quickly pushed on.

Another of my convoys was not so lucky today. En-route to Bastion, the convoy was ambushed at about 1030hrs by probably the same group of insurgents only 3 km west of the previous contact. The bad guys piled in accurate small arms and machine-gun fire from abandoned houses and gardens 300m south of the MSR. Same cover, same range, and same side of the MSR – all they had done was have tea and move a short walk down the road. During the contact a tanker driver was injured and lost control of his tanker causing it to leave the MSR and become bogged in soft ground. The injured driver was evacuated to a nearby FOB by ISAF and one of my teams remained with the bogged tanker to wait for recovery assets – they are still out there as I write – while the remainder pushed of the convoy forward on its task.

A short time later, it was hit again.

At about 1100hrs, most of the guards dismounted to provide all-round protection as the convoy moved through a choke-point on a high-risk stretch of the road. Only seconds after they de-bussed an IED detonated right next to one of my guards. He was killed instantly. The teams kept their head, stayed in position until the convoy was through the choke point, then mounted up and headed out.

Reading this, I am conscious it is a dry and clinical description of an action that killed one of my men but, really, how can it be otherwise? It is so commonplace in our battle to get the fuel through. I feel every one of the deaths but can’t let it get to me. As the commander of that guard force says with a fatalistic shrug “It is war and it happens.”

Exploding Culverts

•July 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A couple of days ago, by way of assistance to another of our regions, I sent a large guard force up to Herat Province – a bloody long trip from here that necessitated a stop-over and replen at Camp Bastion. Yesterday, the teams were en route to Farah Intersection from Camp Bastion when, at 0820hrs, they ran into a massive ambush on HWY 1 at a location in Farrah Province. The ambush was initiated with a large IED, planted in a road culvert.  The blast, luckily, missed my escort vehicles but devastated the road leaving a crater about 5m long x 3m wide x 3m deep into which one of my guard vehicles plunged, severely wounding the occupants.

The initiation was followed up by sustained and accurate small-arms and RPG fire to the front, middle and rear of the convoy from the high ground on both sides of the MSR. My guards de-bussed and returned fire, moving straight into their counter-ambush drills. The engagement lasted for a little over two hours and left a number of the escort vehicles badly damaged with the one in the crater totalled. The teams suffered five seriously wounded and, after the bad guys broke contact, they withdrew to Bastion for medical care.

My contacts have told me to expect more of the same as a number of teams have been infiltrated into that area by the insurgents with the express aim of cutting the MSR and destroying our convoys that ply the road with monotonous, and dangerous, regularity.

And it’s only mid-July!