Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Green is the Color of Jalalabad

Yesterday, I had the unique opportunity to witness the first ever transition from one Afghan combat brigade to another of the operational battle space that it occupied. What does that mean? It means the Afghan people are continuing to take over more of the fight. That is a very significant event. With the transfer of control of a sector of the battlefield from one Afghan National Army element to another, that means less reliance on the coalition for maneuvers units in the future. The pride shown by these Afghan men was a sign of their faith in their future.

With the departure of the 1st Brigade, the leadership acknowledged both their valiant performance of duty over the "Spring Offensive" of 2006 and the preparedness of the incoming 3rd Brigade that would relieve them in place. The outgoing unit had
Captured over 71 Taliban, killed 31, and wounded 63over the course of their continuous attacks, raids, and cordon and search operations. Over the course of these battles, the unit lost eight of its men. In what can only be described as unprecedented in this new government, the Governor offered each of the families of these fallen soldiers a plot of formerly government held land to farm in their memory. "I call on the third brigade to continue the legacy of the first brigade," said the governor, "regarding their ethics, discipline and respect for human rights."

Now there is something you rarely hear for a leader in a war time theatre.

While Brig. Gen. Pritt was the ranking American officer present, his comments were amongst the shortest. There were nine speakers that ranged from the Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army to the regional Governor, from the outgoing brigade commander to the incoming brigade commander. The Afghan people love a good speech and several of these speakers roused the audience into choruses of their regimental mottos or thunderous applause.

The governor announced that there would be three soldiers that would be receiving medals for their service but that they were representatives of what the entire regiment would be receiving. Anxious to get the awards process started, an officer, and NCO and a young soldier took the stage one by one and were pinned by either the governor himself, the brigade commander or in one case, the company commander. These three represented the regiment best for their combat actions over the past five months of sustained combat. The rest of the regiment would be awarded similar devices once they order was authorized by President Karzai. In the interim, fifty of the soldiers were presented certificates honoring their service.

These incredibly proud men, these professional soldiers, marched forward to receive recognition and, on reporting, announced in loud, bold statements their loyalty to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, their regiment and their command.

After the honors and the speeches, we were all welcomed to an excellent lunch of stewed goat, rice, fresh vegetables and warm naan bread. This was not an event for the officers and senior NCOs as is typically the case in this very formalized culture. The entire regiment shared this meal.

At my table, I sat next to a career television and radio producer who was very interested in covering more stories about the success of the Afghan National Army and its relationship with the Embedded Training Teams. I made a plan to work with him in the future.

Immediately after the grand meal, Brig. Gen. Pritt, his Aide, Lt. Merrit and his security detail, left to join the governor at his palace for a reception. While it sounded incredible, the rest of us waited for their return. It was at this time that I was given a bit of a tour of the compound, realizing the dark history to the fortress we had occupied for hours.

The Taliban held this post until their fall from power in 2001. The prison within the compound had held "enemies of the state" people that were often arrested for speaking out of turn, not having enough facial hair, reading unauthorized books (typically anything but the Koran and the Sunnah). Hundreds of the prisoners of this decrepit medieval dungeon were executed in the courtyard.

Tied to the Eucalyptus tree against the walls of the prison, they were shot by lone Talib firing details.

The Tree of Life is a pattern of many rugs designed here in Afghanistan and throughout central Asia. This tree was a tree of death.

One final detail of this trip to the borderlands between Eastern Afghansitan and Western Pakistan...the heat. It was 124 F with about 97 percent humidity. It was oppressive even for the Afghans from the region. All of us were sweating buckets. At one point I looked at my hands and it was if I had been in a swimming pool all day, they were wrinkled from moisture. As we departed the area in a Black Hawk helicopter I looked into the lens and snpped this shot... It was hot.

-out here


Blogger Kat said...

Can't wait to hear the rest! :) Have a great day/night/whatever! :)

12:12 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Wow - that is awesome! Good job - we're awfully proud of y'all!!!! :)

Momma Kat

6:58 PM  

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