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
Here in the Baraki Barak district of Logar province, the bad guys sometimes shoot rockets at the American outposts. So every night, 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry posts a platoon in MRAPs on the district’s high ground, along with the usual accompanying Afghan National Army contingent. They call the high ground, “Rocketman.” The idea is to have troops ready to dart down and kill or capture the shooters. The soldiers sit atop the rise, scanning the falling darkness with their night scopes, waiting for something to happen.
Usually, nothing does. And the night creeps on, minute by eternal minute. It gets dark. Then it gets darker. The first stars come out, followed by a billion of their friends and neighbors. It gets cold. It gets colder. The gunners scan. Everyone falls asleep or, if they can’t sleep, find ways to amuse themselves. They listen to music or podcasts. They smoke.
That wasn’t cutting it for some 3rd Squadron troopers. Eying a case of Rip It energy drinks stashed in the back of his truck, one soldier keyed his platoon radio. “How many of these Rip Its do you think I can drink?” Each Rip It has as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.
Wagers rolled in. The bet turned into a contest: one soldier popped open a couple dozen Rip Its and lined them up on an MRAP’s rear ramp. The first drinker to reach six would be the winner. What would he win? Well, nothing, really. Winning wasn’t really the point. Three contestants took their marks. A medic hovered nearby. He advised frequent belching to relieve any gas build-up, but didn’t seem too concerned about the overdose of caffeine. Ready, set, go!
Drink. Belch. Drink. Belch. It was a chorus of burps on an otherwise silent desert night. Empty cans flew in all directions. Spectators laughed and groaned. I recorded the “music” on my iPod. At the 2:38 mark, one soldier downed his sixth Rip It, to be declared the victor. Fifteen minutes later, he vomited explosively on the sand.
(Photo: David Axe)
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