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Common Scenes & Common Thoughts

A helicopter roars into FOB Jackson in Sangin, Afghanistan. Medical tents are just next to the Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) so casualties can be quickly loaded.

Sangin bazaar.

The intelligence section here at FOB Jackson says that since this 2 Rifles tour began in April 2009, tips from locals have been steady with no remarkable increase or decrease in information flow.  Information flow from civilians is a crucial indicator and was my first big tip-off during the dangerous summer of the 2007 that the Surge in Iraq was working.  Even as our casualties were dramatically increasing during the Surge and up to mid-2007, cooperation from Iraqis also dramatically increased.

Here in Sangin, there are conflicting lines of information that would indicate we are gaining or losing ground.  Cooperation from locals—a crucial indicator—would indicate we are treading water.

Some attacks are thwarted by tip-offs, which often, or typically, result from immediate self-interests, such as the case where bombs are planted among a farmer’s crops.  Whereas earlier the bombs were planted on obvious channels such as roads, bridges and paths, last week a soldier was severely wounded by an IED in the middle of a field.  I watched from base as another three IEDs detonated in the vicinity.  Luckily those were without effect.  There were many factors that led to the avalanche-like turnaround in Iraq, and one of the key factors was troop strength and constant presence in the neighborhoods.  Many Iraqis and Afghans were/are betting on what they perceive to be the winning side—no matter if they like that side or not.

Local cooperation seems based on immediate self-interests, not long-term ideological visions, though, clearly, long-term ideological visions are hallmark for the fundamentalists.  We will know that we are winning—definitely winning—when we see a remarkable increase in population-generated information and cooperation.

Sangin Market: tons of fertilizer flows into Sangin.  These fertilizers are as good for making bombs as for growing corn and drugs.

Walking through the streets, one sees enough fertilizers to flatten a strong and very large building.  The local bomb-makers often use pressure cookers as the Maoists did in Nepal.  In fact, the Nepalese government began confiscating pressure cookers, leading even more people to sympathize with Maoists who used them for small bombs.  Our forces spent considerable effort intercepting fertilizer coming into Iraq—I was on some of those missions—yet here the bomb-making materials are all available within a couple minutes from the base.

The market.  Sangin is massive opium producer but this year’s crop is already in, and the corn and other crops are growing.  Tall corn is easy for the enemy to hide in, so the British help farmers closer to base grow short crops, such as beans.

Sangin market.

The “G Factor”:  Rfn Manish Archarya, from Dharan in eastern Nepal, steps across the block to keep his boots dry.  Some Gurkhas will slog through water or mud, but most use stepping stones or logs.  Other British soldiers smile and call such differences “The G Factor.”  During tracking school in Brunei, this clue indicated whether we were tracking Gurkhas or someone else.  The Gurkhas would parallel a stream looking for a log or other place to cross, while other British soldiers would splash straight through.

It is not well known that the Sultan of Brunei quietly supports our efforts in Afghanistan.  And the Sultan so likes the Gurkhas and British Army stationed in Brunei, that he pays the expenses for the British to keep the Gurkhas stationed there.  (As I write these words from a hot building on FOB Jackson, an uncouth ANP with radio in hand and pistol on right hip, just spat upon the floor as if we are in the middle of the desert.)

Front L to R: CPL Chris Bannon; Rfn Carl Dresser (facing away); 1LT Mark Cripps; SGT Rob Grimes; Rfn Liam Martin; Rfn Dean.  Back L to R: CPL Kenneth Copeland; Rfn Gatting (facing away); CPL Ryan (Ginge) Hone; Rfn Farrah.

The day was 30 July 2009, and the hot mission with the Gurkhas ended and we returned to base, and there was 2 Platoon from A Company, 2 Rifles, prepping for a mission during which they would be hit.  Morale of 2 Platoon is strong and they retain their sense of humor despite much fighting.   1LT Mark Cripps and SGT Rob Grimes were inspecting gear and weapons.

During this mission, 2 Platoon would be hit, but none of us knew this yet. After the hot patrol with Gurkhas I trudged down to the river, completely dressed, boots and all, and jumped in.

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