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A Year At War
October 21, 2010 3:43 PM   Subscribe

A Year at War: One Battalion's Wrenching Deployment to Afghanistan: "Some 30,000 American soldiers are taking part in the Afghanistan surge. Here are the stories of the men and women of First Battalion, 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division" out of Fort Drum, NY., based in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan. Over the next year, The New York Times will follow their journey, chronicling the battalion’s part in the surge in northern Afghanistan and the impact of war on individual soldiers and their families back home. (First link is an interactive feature containing images and autoplaying video, and requires flash. Second link is a standard-style article.)

The interface is broken into three parts:

Going to War: Videos of the battalion's training, deployment and progress reports.

The Battalion: Profiles of the soldiers they are tracking -- currently there are 8 profiles. Below each soldier's photo is a link to their updates.

Dispatches: Reader submitted stories, mostly from American soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan.

Also:

Single page version of the second linked article.

Related: In Mission With Afghan Police, Issues of Trust. Associated video.

Kunduz Province was in the news last Friday, when a "massive" bomb exploded in a mosque, killing at least 15 people and wounding 20. Among those killed was a provincial governor who had survived a series of assassination attempts.
posted by zarq (28 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
NPR had a story this morning that gives one a vivid sense of life as an infantryman there: "For U.S. Troops, Peril On The Afghan-Pakistan Border"

"It wasn't blown up, they abandoned this," he said. "This was all self-destruction. Like the vehicles that we passed way up there, they just abandoned all these compounds. I'm not sure the reasoning behind it."

Part of the reasoning has to do with who left this compound in such a hurry — the soldiers all refer to them as the OGA, which stands for "Other Government Agency" and is common slang for the CIA. The CIA declined to comment. ...

The occupants appear to have left in a hurry, though with few signs of battle, other than a floor littered with shells from a belt-fed machine gun.

The sight of hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted doesn't go down well with the soldiers in Alpha Company, but they've got a more personal gripe.

Many of them spent the summer fighting in the valley to the west — killing scores of Taliban and losing some of their own — in an operation called Strong Eagle meant to clear the Taliban out of the area. The "OGA" base at the Ghakhi Pass served to keep the border under control, the soldiers say.

posted by Joe Beese at 3:51 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Northern Afghanistan has been more stable in recent years than the Pashtun dominated south which was the Taliban heartland. The insurgency has grown up there in the past 2 years and we are now facing a pretty difficult situation. On the other hand there are prospects for immediate economic improvement as the first rail line in Afghanistan in over 100 years is set to open. This will connect Afghanistan by rail all the way to Turkey. More background on the rail building plans in Afghanistan here. Of course one might reflect that this strategy was tried in 1919 and ended in failure in 1929 when a campaign of modernization was brought to an end.
posted by humanfont at 4:01 PM on October 21, 2010


Related info for those of you who this might interest....

My grandfather was among the very first members of the 87th/10th Mountain in WWII. They were the ski troops back then and have quite an interesting history. Notably, the 10th was the first modern military unit raised by a civilian organization. More on the 10th's history here. Also worth viewing is the documentary Fire on The Mountain. (It was interesting seeing footage of my grandfather at war in this film...)
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:23 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Their interface is basically unusable, at least in Chrome.
posted by eugenen at 4:33 PM on October 21, 2010


NPR had a story this morning that gives one a vivid sense of life as an infantryman there: "For U.S. Troops, Peril On The Afghan-Pakistan Border"

"It wasn't blown up, they abandoned this," he said. "This was all self-destruction. Like the vehicles that we passed way up there, they just abandoned all these compounds. I'm not sure the reasoning behind it."


I heard the same story this morning, and I though: zombies. Or some other unnatural threat that would make people want to leave really, really quickly. Then again, I think about zombies more than most.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:36 PM on October 21, 2010


My now brother-in-law (got hitched last weekend) is back from the front after multiple tours. I applaud any and all efforts to describe the actual situation on the ground in Afghanistan. He has not said much to me (yet) but what he has shared is disturbing to say the least.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:36 PM on October 21, 2010


Disturbing and heart-breaking, I should add.
posted by joe lisboa at 4:37 PM on October 21, 2010


The big business of kidnapping in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 4:41 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then they come home. The Gazette (July 25, 2009) of Colorado Springs published a two part ~15,000 word article about what becomes of soldiers when they come home - in this instance from Iraq. The article is harrowing in that it follows the details of a specific group of soldiers but I think warranted here in that it also illustrates and addresses both the culture of the military when in combat and the level of commitment the military is granting soldiers when they come home from combat.
Part 1, Part 2. Warned.
posted by vapidave at 5:20 PM on October 21, 2010


currently there are 8 profiles. Below each soldier's photo is a link to their updates.

Anyone else get a chill when they read that sentence?
posted by timsteil at 5:27 PM on October 21, 2010


my nephew will be one.
posted by clavdivs at 5:54 PM on October 21, 2010


1929 when a campaign of modernization was brought to an end
women were given the vote in 1920
1979 when a campaign of modernization was brought to an end
the US created and clandestinely deployed the Afghan Arabs, triggering the Soviet war, ending the Democratic Republic leading to establishment of (drumroll) the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
also see
posted by hortense at 6:39 PM on October 21, 2010


hortense if it was that simple to assign blame in Afghanistan we'd have fixed this problem long ago. Shall we consider the failures of the various peace agreements in the 1990s where Iranian and Pakistani agents worked to destabilize the country. Or the generations of opium lords who trace their power back more than 100 years. Perhaps the problems of Afghanistan are more modern where the ISI worked deliberately to create the Taliban, and elements of the ISI continue to support the Taliban today. Was it the stinger missiles from the CIA that brought an end to the helicopter /air power advantage of the soviets that finally brought it down? Now what do we make of the Chinese play for much of the mineral wealth of the country. Will we see the creation of another Burma?
posted by humanfont at 7:47 PM on October 21, 2010


Once upon a time
not a simple problem I know .. i I wish we would be done fixing it
posted by hortense at 8:38 PM on October 21, 2010


Humanfont, your use of the editorial 'we' as in "we'd have fixed this problem long ago" reveals why your knowledge of the history of US foreign policy in the middle east is so tendentiously ill-informed. I heard the report on NPR (national corporate radio, sponsored by foundations for empty and protean shibboleths that can be read over the radio to starry-eyed Obama worshipers who unwittingly support the US war machine because it is approved of by a Nobel Peace Prize-winning war criminal), and was aghast that nothing was said about the innocent people of Afghanistan killed, mutilated, and desecrated by our troops. It is no wonder the suicide rates in the military are so high for people who have had combat tours. It is not because the Muslims have developed delayed-action munitions. The consciences of these people are driving them to self-destruct. The same thing would be seen in the IDF if Zionists had consciences.
posted by Veridicality at 8:55 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


You forgot to mention A Computer or Internet Related Company or Surgery or a Wrong Dude.

And you forgot to suggest a course that might make things better.

I'd be outraged but I do that myself sometimes so I'm just glad it's not me doing it this time.
posted by vapidave at 10:08 PM on October 21, 2010


A more extreme case, but compelling reading is Junger's "War". I'm glad that National Geographic got off its ass and is finally releasing the film the author and cameraman took.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:13 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Veridicality, Afghanistan is not Iraq. A January 2010 survey of Afghan public opinion found that 78% want US troops to stay (even though only 38% have a positive opinion of them).
posted by russilwvong at 10:16 PM on October 21, 2010


That story you linked to hortense is very interesting. But what do you make of the fact that there were major uprisings in Afghanistan in 1978 following the coup in April of that year against Daud? By July there was chaos with bombings and assassinations. Brzezinski is taking too much credit and it also shows that in addition to failing to understand the rising power of clerics in Iran as the Shah fell, they didn't understand the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Suni world. A failure which would also lead to Saddat being assassinated.
Let's go back to the timeline; 1973 the king is thrown out. 1978 a very bloody coup kills teh last legitimate leader and descends into factions a group forms a weak government under Taraki who becomes increasingly reliant on soviet firepower to put down regional rebellions resulting from his attempts to consolidate power. Mid 1979 another coup as Taraki is pushed by Amin who is more disliked by the Islamic groups. By September there are 140k refugees in Pakistan. The countryside is in open revolt and the soviets are already up to their necks in it. On December 27th they go all in to try to salvage the situation. They kill Amin, and bring in Kamal to be the new leader. December 31 Carter makes public comments.
posted by humanfont at 1:01 AM on October 22, 2010


I've been over here for going on two months now, and here are some of the salient features of my experience so far:

The scale of what we're doing here is unbelievably huge. The base I'm on is miles by miles. There are also thousands and thousands of people working here in every capacity from portalet-sucker-truck driver to cook and barber. The ratio of people in danger to people out of danger must be 1:100. At least.

I've spent a lot of time just trying to get a good picture of what, exactly, is going on in my area of responsibility. It's hard, because there are multiple sources of information, which at times contradict one another. However, as vague and contradictory as that information may be, you can't let that stop you from trying to formulate a plan and solve the problems you see in front of you. So, in fits and starts, we proceed down the road, changing the plan as we get more information.

Sorry to be so vague, but for obvious reasons, etc., etc.

I can say this: I've never been more hopeful about what we're trying to do than when I've worked with the Afghans themselves. They are a tough and impressive bunch.
posted by atchafalaya at 4:21 AM on October 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


My grandfather was among the very first members of the 87th/10th Mountain in WWII.

Mine too! Maybe they were buddies. (Probably not.)
posted by sonika at 5:30 AM on October 22, 2010


1979 when a campaign of modernization was brought to an end
the US created and clandestinely deployed the Afghan Arabs, triggering the Soviet war, ending the Democratic Republic leading to establishment of (drumroll) the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.


Saying the US instigated the Soviet invasion by creating the mujas is as backwards and mixed up as saying the Union Blockade triggered the Battle of Fort Sumter. That's completely ignoring the ethnic and social schism between PDPA parties Khalq and Parcham, Daoud's 1973 coup, his brutal introduction of land and social reforms which exacerbated the conflict between Communism and Islam, and Pakistan's shenanigans, just to name a few of the conflict's causes.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:18 AM on October 22, 2010


Damn you humanfront! My one chance to not be 'That dorky jokey guy' and you swoop in!

*Suspenders snap, pants drop*
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:20 AM on October 22, 2010


This is an excerpt from Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald Invisible History:Afghanistan's Untold Story the blog


“. . . the real Afghanistan was lacking one important ingredient. In the words of Cheryl Bernard, a RAND analyst and expert on the Middle East who is married to Zalmay Khalilzad, ‘In Afghanistan, we made a deliberate choice . . . At first, everyone thought, There’s no way to beat the Soviets. So what we have to do is throw the worst crazies against them that we can find, and there was a lot of collateral damage. We knew exactly who these people were, and what their organizations were like and we didn’t care,’ she says. ‘Then we allowed them to get rid of, kill all the moderate leaders. The reason we don’t have moderate leaders in Afghanistan today is because we let the nuts kill them all. They killed the leftists, the moderates, the middle-of-the-roaders. They were just eliminated, during the 1980’s and afterward."

the reviews for the book are worthwhile, for the uninitiated The authors have done six hour of interviews with anti fascist researcher Dave Emory's For the Record @ WFMU.
posted by hortense at 10:42 AM on October 22, 2010


Thanks for the book recommendation, I'll have to read more about it. It certainly seems to provide an interesting perspective. I have a lot of respect for the work they did to cover Afghanistan in the 1980s. At the same time I don't see a lot of scholarly reviews or references. It also comes across as a bit conspiratorial and the quotes on the jacket are form people like Noam Chomsky whom I tend to regard as fringe left. These are my political biases though and I'll read the book and let you know.
The Boston Globe's reviewer did not give it a favorable review. Though others like the Dallas Morning news and Asia Times have. There aren't a lot of citations on Google scholar for the work either which make me suspicious and no reviews I could find in MESA or other Journals (I didn't look hard yet though). Perhaps you could point me to some.
posted by humanfont at 1:50 PM on October 22, 2010


U.S. officials, experts: No high-level Afghan peace talks under way
posted by homunculus at 1:56 PM on October 22, 2010


NATO leader suggests we have regained the initiative. This of course gives us a +2 on
saving throws.
posted by humanfont at 4:06 PM on October 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Digging in for the Long Haul in Afghanistan: How Permanent Are America’s Afghan Bases?
posted by homunculus at 1:45 PM on October 25, 2010


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