It was a war we thought we’d won. But after eight years of escalating violence, the Afghanistan conflict has morphed into something perhaps unwinnable. U.S.-led forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to deny sanctuary to Al Qaeda, a goal we’ve largely achieved. But in years of occupation, Washington has apparently conflated counter-terrorism with nation-building. Now the U.S., NATO and their allies are struggling to destroy a deeply-rooted insurgency in country with a corrupt, ineffective government, poor infrastructure and few prospects for everyday people, but to fight. David Axe visits U.S. forces to see for himself.
by DAVID AXE
The U.S. Air Force’s 455th Expeditionary Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Bagram air base puts medical personnel aboard cargo planes carrying injured troops to the U.S. and Europe — like EMTs in flying ambulances. But lots more dangerous.
Major Christopher Day, commander of one of the squadron’s evacuation teams, describes one close-call, during a mission on a C-130 out of Kandahar:
We were 20 minutes out, over the wire, when the [Auxiliary Power Unit] on the C-130 caught on fire. We used our checklist — my crew did an absolutely great job. We set everyone up to do an emergency landing. We did an emergency landing, did an emergency egress — that means we took all the patients possible off the aircraft. We were told the aircraft was smoking on the way down to the landing. There wasn’t any time to think.
My crew actually did everything right that could be [done, according] to the checklist. They got the patients out safely. We had two litter patients [and we] actually had to walk [those] patients off. [So] my crew went back into the aircraft to walk them off.
“It’s neat,” Day adds proudly. “That’s my family.”
(Photo: David Axe)