Military aircrews earn much respect out here. Just hours ago, as I write this, a Soldier in a nearby unit stepped on an IED. The helicopter that extracted him took ground fire. Happens every day.
I could write a book about their work in Iraq, and turn around and do the same here in Afghanistan. A chapter for every sort of mission. A chapter for every branch of service. A chapter for every type of aircraft. It would be difficult encapsulate their importance to troops on the ground. A thousand pages would not be enough.
We took off from Kandahar Airfield and flew toward Helmand. Below and to the left is the “Dasht-i-Margo”, or the “Desert of Death.” The pilots called it the “Red Desert.” To the right is the exit of the Arghandab River Valley, close to where these words are written. These photos were made in July, while the words are written today on 14 September. There is a hint of rain in the air. The rains cause the dust to form with the consistency of crunchy peanut butter in some places, and smooth peanut butter in others. The troops will complain about the peanut butter but they love it; the rains damage the enemy bombs, often rendering them inert. When they do explode the “peanut butter” can muffle the impact. And so the troops will walk through the worst peanut butter they can find, and your legs will be exhausted and become very sore, and casualties will be reduced.
Though foreigners have paved roads here and there, these are the real Afghan roads.
Nobody knows how many people became lost in the Desert of Death and disappeared forever.
Helicopter trips in Afghanistan can provide a chance to contemplate stigmergy.
Some days this feels like a National Geographic Adventure but with guns.
Dozens of these dust devils can pass by per day. In Pashto and Dari languages, they are called “gerdbad.” Afghans say a strong gerdbad can carry away chickens or even small children. Helicopter pilots say they are to be avoided and on this flight we had to fly around them.
We flew from Kandahar Airfield over to a couple of places in Helmand, then back to Kandahar Province where the crews dropped me off at Forward Operating Base Pasab. FOB Pasab is the rectangle in the upper left. All of the fighting I have been writing about for the past two months, and for the next three (touch wood), has been in the green area of this image. There is fighting here today.