Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Quiet Ride

Gardez, eastern Afghanistan

We fly in from FOB Salerno (FOB is forward operating base).
The helicopter skims the mountains ahead of a front of weather that will cut
off our flight so I am glad we get in while the getting's good.
Goat tracks criss cross the tops of the highest mountains on the pass we are
flying over. The peaks look like a well-worn cow pasture, with many
parallel tracks worn by cloven feet. The pass is not that high - probably
9,000 feet or so. But the Afghans are a rugged race if they feed their
goats this high often enough to create this many tracks.
Our door gunners keep a sharp eye out but they aren't expecting anything and
of course nothing happens. Being a door gunner must be the dullest job in
the world - watching the scenery go by for a whole year with nothing to do,
except scan for threats that seldom materialize and help keep the helicopter
in flying shape. Same scenery, different day. Still, its that kind of a
job where dull is good.
Gardez is pretty quiet. Quiet means very little happens here, and it would
be a surprise if something did.
Quiet is also in the eye of the beholder. There was a suicide car bomb
attack on a compound downtown last week. This is Afghanistan, and the
wartime version of quiet is nothing much generally happens except that
sometimes it does.
Down the road about an hour from here, fighting is going on 5 days out of 7.
The Taliban is trying to take over a smaller FOB which houses over a score
of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and a couple of US trainers and their
Oregon National Guard guards. But no one attacks our own base, nor does
anyone expect the Taliban to. Hundreds of ANA soldiers live and train
here, and the Taliban lacks the numbers to atack them.
The base used to be rocketed but the Taliban cut that out about 6 months
ago. Though whether it was Taliban or just disaffected locals doing the
rocketing is unknown.
Here is another example of the Afghan version of quiet:
A couple of days after arriving in Gardez, I leave on a convoy. Our convoy
is driving through the city back toward Kabul, when a guardrail falls off
the back of a 5-ton truck (a ten-wheeled Army truck) ahead of us. Our
humvee stops to pick up the rail. We fall behind the truck, which rolls
slowly forward.
We get back underway quick enough and our driver and gunner tear up a street
and around a traffic circle, honking and yelling at traffic to get out of
the way, desperate to reunite with the receding truck.
It makes some sense - separated vehicles are easy targets.
But it makes you wonder if things are so quiet why we need to have a cow if
we fall behind a lousy 150 yards.
The Gardez - Kabul road is also considered "quiet". Nothing happens on the
trip, of course
But all the honking and yelling makes you wonder what one of the active
roads over the southern passes feels like, when attacks really happen all
the time.

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