by DAVID AXE
“Let’s go get blown up,” Staff Sgt. Ashley Hess quipped as he climbed into his armored vehicle on a hot, bright mid-October morning. Sgt. Hess and the rest of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Platoon, Able Troop — part of the 3rd Squadron of the 71st Cavalry regiment deployed to this fertile agricultural province south of Kabul — steered their vehicles down a dirt road code-named Route New York.
The route is a favorite with insurgent bomb teams, who prefer burying their explosives directly under a vehicle’s path — something that’s nearly impossible on paved roads. Many of 2nd Platoon’s vehicles bear the dents and scars from near-misses accumulated since the unit arrived in Logar’s Baraki Barak district in January as part of the Obama administration’s initial wave of reinforcements for the eight-year-old Afghanistan war.
Today, 2nd Platoon was lucky: No bombs exploded. But notwithstanding the danger of its mission, the platoon’s objectives were peaceful. Once in a sleepy farming village on the fringes of Baraki Barak, Hess and the others climbed out of their vehicles and fanned out. They approached every farmer they saw and, through an interpreter, invited them to fill out a survey, in exchange for a cool bottle of water. On the survey was a list of detailed questions about local agriculture: What kinds of crops do you grow? What kinds of farming implements do you use? Do you own or rent your equipment?
The surveys are part of a new American strategy, endorsed by senior U.S. commander Gen. Stan McChrystal, for separating everyday Afghans from insurgents and terrorists. The idea, explained 3rd Squadron commander Lt. Col. Thomas Gukeisen, is to give friendly Afghans a little of what they want in exchange for their cooperation. That might include better seeds, assistance with grain exports or technical advice regarding fertilizers and irrigation. Ideally, surrounding villages that see their neighbors benefiting from working with the coalition will in turn offer their support, too. “Dislocated envy,” Gukeisen called it.
(Photo: David Axe)
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