We spent two days under so called blackout conditions. The armed forces have a strict policy of shutting down all means of communication, from collecting mobile phones to capping the internet connection. They want family members to be informed about any killed relative by an official source, instead of rumors being spread.
We only got sketchy information about one service member being killed in Paktika late on Saturday. I haven’t been able to confirm any such news on the internet after it came back on this morning.
On Saturday night we were standing right next to the mortar pit when they were firing illumination rounds out of their 120 Millimeter tube, lighting up the three Kilometre corridor between the base and the town of Sar Howsa. They shot at least ten rounds into the night sky – for show of force more than anything.
The assistant gunner steps to the mortar. The NCO tells him to “hang it” and the gunner will place the round into the tubes opening. After he’s commanded to fire, he simply lets the round drop into the tube. Where the rounds initial charge explodes and the grenade is violently propelled into sky. The loud explosion makes the area the pit tremble.
The illumination rounds break into half over the destined area. The part with the phosphorus substance glides to the ground on a parachute. They changed the direction of fire slightly once. Axel took some awesome pictures of the live firin exercise.
The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on Sunday didn’t cause too much of a stir. But for symbolism’s sake Captain Perkins held a so called Patch Ceremony on the parking space. The soldiers of Apache Company have now been in theater for more than 30 days and those who didn’t have a patch already were given the brigades insignia to stick onto their right upper arm.
Perkins set the ceremony on this day, so the soldiers would be reminded of why they were fighting this war. I asked Perkins whether the combat outpost had been put under higher alert. To which he responded, that they had parked MRAP-vehicles as additional barricades in front of the entrance.
But, he added, the Taliban had actually distanced themselves from the deeds of what they perceive as a foreign organisation, the al Quaida, ten years ago.
For the first time we ventured out with one of the platoons into a built up area. Staff Sergeant Neal Nuñez let us join the soldiers of 3rd platoon on their patrol into Sar Howsa bazaar, which is actually located on the outskirts of the town.
We drove the three kilometers in a convoy of MRAPs. We dismounted at the entrance to the town and walked up to what is considered a police station. The building looks like a bombed out garage for trucks. Part of the roof has collapsed. In one corner a man was pulling freshly baked Naan from an oven stacking it on top.
We picked up three police officers and walked some hundred meters to the bazaar, which is made up of flat mud buildings housing little shops and businesses. Garbage was all over the place, some well trodden into the ground. A little stream of filthy water trickled across the street.
The shopkeepers didn’t seem very welcoming but neither were they hostile towards the soldiers and civilians visiting their market place. A guy from human resources interviewed a carpenter who stood in front of his workshop putting the finishing touches on an impressive gate. He was making a good living he said. His shop smelled of pine tree from Kunar province.
Another trader selling fruit and vegetables was pretty dodgy when answering questions about whether he had knowledge of outsiders in this area. After a while he just answered that the local populous wouldn’t turn in any aliens, they feared retribution from the Taliban. After it started to rain the bazaar quickly deserted, the shopkeepers pulled down their shutters.
We spent two hours up there. Nuñez was adamant that it’s always worth going up there. If they didn’t show up, the people would start feeling neglected. In this war just being present can be more useful than using force.