There’s a new Afghanistan war plan. Last fall, NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal rolled out more restrictive rules of engagement, heralding a “population-centric” approach to the war. U.S. President Barack Obama announced more U.S. troops. While U.S.-led forces in eastern Afghanistan doubled their efforts to prop up faltering local governance, troops in the south identified Taliban strongholds in Marjah and Kandahar and went on the offensive. “Has the U.S. broken the Taliban’s momentum?” reporter Nathan Hodge asked. Maybe. But there are new risks, too: the Dutch might pull out of a key southern province, and Afghan national leadership remains weak. The war might be going our way, for once, but it’s far from over. David Axe and Greg Scott head to “The ‘Stan” to see for themselves.
by DAVID AXE
Staff Sergeant Adam Scripture’s instructions were simple. Don’t sleep on top of the cargo. Don’t sleep on the rear ramp. If the pressurization fails and the alarm goes off, you have five seconds to put on your oxygen mask before you go unconscious. “I don’t want to have to come back there and grab you by the scruff of the neck” if I don’t put my mask on in time, he said.
“Now you know more than you did five minutes ago,” said Scripture, a 16th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. We were bound from Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., to Pope Air Force Base, N.C., then on to Ramstein, Germany — and eventually Bagram, Afghanistan. It would be a long series of flights. We had 30 Army soldiers, from the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion at Fort Bragg, plus a cargo hold full of generators and other equipment coming along, too. The soldiers know this game: no sooner had aircraft commander Major Brian Mortiz “turned off the seatbelt sign,” than the soldiers all staked out spots on the floor and unrolled their sleeping bags.
In the cockpit, Moritz oversaw takeoffs and landings. As we turned east to cross the Atlantic, he sighed and shoved back in his seat. “Now you get to see the fun part of our trip.” That is, the nine hours where basically nothing happens. Soldiers snoozed as the airplane grew steadily colder. The crew did paperwork and monitored aircraft systems. The miles to Afghanistan slid by silently below.