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
Task Force Gladius was on its way to visit the governor of Parwan province in Charikar, just a few miles from Bagram, when on the horizon a thick black curl of smoke unfurled. Through the thick windows of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored trucks, the sky always looks murky. The smoke turned it even darker.
“Help put that out and you’ll make a lot of friends,” said Vermont National Guard Major Justin Davis, part of the advance party for the unit coming in to replace Gladius, which draws most of its troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.
Davis was right, but as we drew closer, it became clear the blaze was more than a few soldiers with fire extinguishers could handle. A fuel truck had caught fire and the flames had spread to a nearby building. The orange fire seemed to reach 10 feet or higher.
A Charikar fire truck wailed past. It was an encouraging sign, more so because the Parwan government is under scrutiny for its botched response to heavy snowstorms last month that killed nearly 200 people in the nearby Salang Pass. Heavy snows triggered avalanches that buried or stranded around 500 cars and buses. Afghan cops and soldiers dug 1,500 survivors out of the snow before NATO help arrived. But the Afghans should have prevented anyone from even entering the pass in such poor weather. As the Afghan government at all levels struggles to pull its act together, civilians die.
We skirted the blaze and reached Governor Abdul Basir Salangi’s compound. Inside, he recited a long list of items he wanted NATO to buy for him to boost his disaster-response capabilities. But more than a month after the storm, Salangi’s hadn’t even put those needs into writing yet. U.S. State Department representative Ethan Glick grimaced. “We have a lot to talk about,” Glick said.
Axeghanistan ‘10: Making Do in Parwan
Axeghanistan ‘10: Parwan Patrol Video
Axeghanistan ‘10: Air Bridge Video
Axeghanistan ‘10: Easier by the Day
Axeghanistan ‘10: Moon Shot
Axeghanistan ‘10: Down Side of the Surge
Axeghanistan ‘10: “Now You Know More than You Did Five Minutes Ago”