Death From Above: The Helmand Hunters

simon klingert archive 401 e1387301387971 Death From Above: The Helmand Hunters Simon Klingert

U.S. Marine Corporal ADAM BRAME, 22, of Little Axe, Oklahoma, a member of Marine Light Helicopter Attack Squadron 169 watches the ground from a UH-1 Y Huey helicopter during a close air support mission over the town of Sangin in Helmand province, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 12, 2011. Based out of Camp Leatherneck in Helmand, HMLA 169 provides air support to ISAF ground troops using a variety of surveillance equipment and weaponry.

The job the members of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 (HMLA 169) were officially tasked with was to provide close air support to ground units, who in 2011 were operating all over Helmand province. The grinding counterinsurgency mission carried out on the ground escalated into a gunfight often enough, and the Marines of HMLA 169 made sure to bring more than just a knife as backup.

One .50 cal GAU-21/A machine gun, another 7.62 mm GAU-17/A Gatling gun and two 70 mm Hydra rocket pods brought home the gritty reality of that task as soon as you climbed aboard the Huey helicopter. A significant part of close air support is to provide overwatch and report suspicious activities to the units on the ground. But when it comes do it, the job is to rain death upon those who are considered as enemies. Prisoners are not taken. Continue reading

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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

One year ago, U.S. journalist James Foley was abducted by unknown kidnappers while reporting on the civil war in Syria. There has been no news from him ever since. Jim is one of about 30 journalists who are currently missing in Syria, and he is also one of my best friends. In this profile I reflect on war and our friendship, forged under fire.

Years later, I still remember how I first met James W. Foley. I had already spent a few days in the cramped confines of the Combined Press and Information Center (CPIC), a nondescript structure hidden behind rows of concrete blast walls in the International Zone in Baghdad. I was waiting for a flight to a base near the city of Baqubah, where I wanted to cover the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency campaign.

The (CPIC) was the place where all journalists who wanted to accompany U.S. military forces in Iraq would have to go and get credentialed. It was a busy spot, even after overall violence in Iraq had somewhat subsided in the spring of 2008. There was a constant coming and going; one night the room would be packed with reporters, and the next morning you’d wake up all by yourself, wondering where they had all gone to.

The light of the day had already faded. The tube lights cast shadows beneath the metal frames of the bunk beds. There was a murmur coming from the hallway. It grew louder and a few moments later, Jim entered the room, escorted by a young soldier. Continue reading

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Starry Night, Heavy Artillery

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In a starry night, U.S. Army artillerymen on Forward Operating Base Boris sling 155 mm shells at enemy positions near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Paktika province, Afghanistan, 2007. Photo: Simon Klingert

The photo above shows U.S. Army artillerymen conducting a night fire mission from their base in eastern Afghanistan sometime in the summer of 2007. The starry night sky, combined with the blurry traces created by the soldier’s headlamps and the approaching thunderstorm in the background make for a surreal, almost eerie atmosphere that just works, even though the photo is too dark for print.

I still remember how dark the nights were in this place, a small town in the eastern province of Paktika, not far from the border to Pakistan. Continue reading

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The Men Protecting the King

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Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers get ready to move out as they patrol a village in the Nurgaram district of Nuristan province, Afghanistan. (c) Simon Klingert

We stopped about twenty minutes into the patrol and took cover behind a neatly build stonewall. It  followed the single path that provided passage through this rugged valley somewhere in southern Nuristan.

“You see him?” one of the Afghan soldiers asked me, pointing to one of his peers, a man of medium height with blond hair, a thick beard and crystal-blue eyes. Said man with the odd European features now rested in the shade of a tree a few meters down the path.

“He is from Nuristan. He and his family are descendants of Alexander the great” the Afghan soldier said to the interpreter by my side. Two or three Afghan soldiers, who had joined us to take a peek at the foreign reporter nodded in agreement.

The incredulous smile on my face must have revealed my skepticism, but it only strengthened their resolve convincing me it was all true.

“See his blue eyes? He just looks like you.” one of them said, as if this was the ultimate clue I had somehow missed. Or was he just trying to take me for a ride?

It seemed it wasn’t the first time the Nuristani was confronted with this folksy legend. The ignorance of his fellow Pashtun and Tajik soldiers amused him, or he had simply grown tired explaining to them that his looks and features weren’t that uncommon in Nuristan.

He just smiled knowingly.

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So How Often Do The Taliban Attack?

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) announced it won’t continue publishing the number of security related incidents, as it had regularly done until recently. There has been some debate over how meaningful those numbers as a metric were (I have written on this subject before), but the timing as well as the rationale behind this step is telling.

Anthony Cordesman, who has for years criticized the way the coalition has dealt with metrics and related figures sums up the context of this decision:

“Basically speaking, we’ve ended up – after the surge and three more years of fighting – with absolutely nothing that we can tell ourselves that shows the level of progress we did or did not achieve” 

The AP’s Robert Burns has the details.

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Flying in Afghanistan, You Get To See The Cockpit

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A little gem from the archives: cockpit view of a Presidential Airways (Blackwater/ Xe/ Academi) operated CASA-212 medium transport aircraft on its final approach to Bagram Airfield, Parwan province, Afghanistan, August 2007. Presidential Airways maintains a sizable fleet of helicopters and aircraft in Afghanistan to provide air transport for coalition forces, such as this flight from Forward Operating Base Salerno to Bagram Airfield. (c) Simon Klingert

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Hanging out and staying alive with the Afghan Army

Gula Jan, the Afghan Sergeant broke the gluttonous silence. He had successfully completed an ANA drill instructor course and was allowed to move around forward operating base Orgun-E, a nearby U.S. military base unescorted with his weapon.

“So tell us, are you afraid being out here with us?” he asked me. He was flanked by his two senior aides, and all three had a mischievous smile on their tanned faces. Even the U.S.-hired Afghan interpreter couldn’t help but smiling as he translated their words.

They had nailed me. Tell them yes and you’ll lose whatever respect they may have for you. Answer no and they will mockingly bring up the ungraceful facial expression you made in the bunker earlier in the afternoon.

Read the rest of this story at republicofsnarkistan.net and stay tuned for part II, which will follow soon.

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