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
It was a confrontation a long time in the making. On March 18 at Bagram, Afghanistan, the U.S. Army’s Task Force Gladius linked up with elements of the Emirates army, the U.S. Army’s 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade and the Afghan army and air corps for a complex air-assault exercise. Two Afghan and two American helicopters would swoop into nearby fields to disgorge Afghan commandos. There would be two iterations: one in the morning and another after lunch.
Gladius rolled out to secure the landing zone before the choppers’ arrival. At the Bagram gate, pictured, a junior Air Force security guard complained that the convoy’s electronic systems were interfering with her electronic systems. The airmen held the convoy for several minutes while she protested the interference. An impatient Army sergeant told the airman to perform an unlikely physical act upon her own person. It was, sources said, not the first time the Army and Air Force had butted heads at the gate.
The first air assault went off without a hitch. Gladius returned to Bagram to shuffle around some of the exercise participants and grab some lunch before securing the second landing zone. Time was short. But at the gate, the offended airman from earlier had called in reinforcements. They parked an armored vehicle across the road to block the Army convoy. Gladius would not be permitted to enter this gate, the airmen said, because the Army had “disrespected” them. They could go find another gate — a half-hour drive down the road.
“Disrespect?” an incredulous Army sergeant said, staring down an airman several pay grades his junior. “Talk about disrespect — stand at parade rest when you address me.”
“Ain’t going to happen,” the airman said.
Fifty years ago, this kind of dispute would have been settled with a fistfight. Thirty battle-hardened soldiers versus a handful of Air Force gate guards … the outcome would not be in doubt. Two aviation majors on the convoy gently encouraged the airmen to take down names and contact info and settle their gripes with the Army at a later date, when there wasn’t a complex training operation depending on the Army’s speedy entry into Bagram. There was, after all, a war underway, remember?
The Air Force relented and the convoy rolled past, nearly a half hour late.
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Axeghanistan ‘10: Moon Shot
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