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
“We don’t own these mountains,” Staff Sergeant Russ Martin said, pointing to the peaks overlooking Forward Operating Base Joyce, in Afghanistan’s remote Kunar province along the Pakistani border. As if to underscore his point, on March 28 enemy fighters targeted a pair of U.S. Army patrols from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, peppering them with Rocket-Propelled Grenades and gunfire and wounding one soldier.
It’s “Indian country,” another soldier said. So much so that even pro-Taliban propagandists operate with impunity. A man the Army calls Tommy Doula — forgive my phonetic spelling — runs his own Taliban call-in radio talk show using a 200-megahertz mobile transmitter that he sets up in the capillary valleys off the main Kunar valley. By the Army locates his signal, he’s already breaking down his gear and moving to the next location.
“He dimes out people,” Major Bill Hampton said — meaning he identifies local Afghans who cooperate with NATO. “It’s a hobby.”
NATO has its own Tommy Doula, sort of — a trooper at Bagram air base who uses an unauthorized small transmitter to broadcast his iPod playlist for the benefit of bored airmen and soldiers.
Axeghanistan ‘10: F-16 Snoops Afghan Insurgents
Axeghanistan ‘10: Rocketville
Axeghanistan ‘10: Big Man
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”
Axeghanistan ‘10: F-16s Aid Avalanche Recovery