Leopards in Afghanistan
Written by Nathan Gallahan   
Wednesday, 17 February 2010 20:38

Camp Hasum Ghar| DAY 10 – We finally made it out of Kandahar yesterday and took a 20-minute Canadian Chinook flight here to Camp Hasum Ghar. This camp is nestled into the side of a mountain in the middle of the desert. I can tell security here is a lot different than in Kabul. This is a black out camp, meaning no lights are used at night. You can only use red lights to walk around because it’s too risky to use white light. Ken and I are starting to get closer to the bad guys, and you can really feel the difference. Good bye civilian clothes, it’s now time to armor up.

The reality here is, while it may be scary outside of the perimeter, I feel safe inside, especially when I look all around and see the weapons pointing away from me. Plus, there are more Leopard II A6M tanks around here then cars in a mall parking lot. Canadian tanks, like Afghan food, make

my body feel good.

The Canadians seem pretty comfortable here. They live in wooden buildings, surrounded by t-walls. They live two to a room and even get internet. One of the female tank crew members Ken interviewed in his vlog, showed me around. They get to have pets and she introduced me to Sketchy, their pet mongoose. I never knew mongoose lived in Afghanistan, so seeing one was suprising. They had a nice cage for it and fed it red licorice and other food. Her name was Sketchy because she is really shy.

We had a chance to sit around and talk with the soldiers and they all seemed in good spirits. They told me about their quick response missions they do out of there. If something happens, they go help. Imagine if you got into trouble back home, a police car would show up, but in this area a force of Leopard II tanks would come. We’ve entered a different world.

Seeing all of these tanks, I couldn’t help but feel this was a conventional war, where tanks upon tanks battle it out against other tanks. But this is a counter insurgency and it’s different. It’s a mindset, it’s about building relationships and trust with the Afghan people, and so together we can flush the bad guys out and eventually bring peace and stability to the country. How can you build relationships while sitting behind inches of armor and driving tanks through a farmer’s field?

I asked, and obviously, tanks fall into the security branch of counter insurgency and you can use them as on-the-ground show of force. Aircraft do the same thing in the air. If an aircraft buzzes the bad guys at 200 feet they tend to run away – same goes with tanks. Wh en you see one of these guys pushing through a village, the bad guys know what’s best for them, run.

They also said you have to be really careful with tanks, because you might create an insurgent when you drive it through a farmer’s field. That may sound weird at first, but what I’m learning is there are different levels of bad guys, active Taliban supporters, Taliban supporters, neutrals, government supporters and active government supporters. Bad guys can go from just supporting to actively supporting back to supporting in a week. All it takes is one tank to drive across a field and you make the farmer mad, they come and shoot at you a little bit and hold that grudge until the relationships are repaired. That’s why the Canadians are careful in their employment of armor.

Camp Hasum Ghar has more than tanks. The Canadians have artillery, engineers, infantry and others to support the mission. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be able to talk to more of them and find out what this area is like and how counter insurgency works here. We’ll be continuing our journey tomorrow to a place without internet, so Ken and I will not be able to update the Web site. I’ll continue to write while I’m out there and update the site as soon as we return. Wish us luck! We hope to have some great experiences to share with you.

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Comments (14)add comment
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Sarah said:

...
I guess I'm having a hard time understanding how driving through a field creates an insurgent; what does the Taliban need to do to create active supporters of the government? Is it more typical to have insurgents created or active government supporters created? What kind of sacrifices are Afghans going through to stabilize their country? I'll be sacrificing my husband for over a year, my children will sacrifice their dad for over a year for him to be a part of the counter-insurgency and I must just not understand a lot about Afghanistan. Driving through a field seems so inconsequential compared to girls being forced to stay home from school, sons being dragged off to fight, having no safety or hope for the future. Why would someone choose to tolerate that and fight those who are trying to help?
 
February 18, 2010
Votes: +0

Andrew said:

Olympics?
This may seems frivolous, but I'd love to know if and how much the ISAF folks (and our US service-members) are following the games in Vancouver. I'm particularly interested in what the Canucks think of them, now that Canada has two home-soil Gold medals instead of 0 - if they can follow them, if they're a point of pride, etc.

Abilene, Texas
 
February 18, 2010
Votes: +0

Kristin Swanton said:

What does it mean to be a bad guy?
This response will be more of a philisophical comment than anything else. When I began to read your blog, I was a little irritated by your use of the phrase "bad guys", but then you further explained what that means from your experiences. I am going to push the envelope a little further and I want to find out then, who is the enemy? Is it the Taliban, is it someone who opposes Western occupation, or someone that simply does not provide information to these troops? I have worked at US training bases where their targets are brown skinned individuals wearing scarves over their head and face. From my experience in the region, most civilians in Afghanistan look like this, yet it is an image in which troops are trained to shoot at. I understand an effort is being made to make their training more "realistic", but clearly there are complications from this.

From your experiences, how do individuals move towards terrorist organizations and what are we (us military) doing to counter or encourage this development? I agree with your statement that avoiding driving through farms is an improvement, but what more can be done? How much knowledge are you given about these cultures to be able to fully respect their rights (and ideally discourage them from joining terrorist organizations) and still be able to complete your sweeps through the area? I think it is a very good question to ask how well are you winning the hearts and minds of these villagers when you are sitting in a menacing looking tank, with automatic rifles and 30 lbs of protective gear? Do you embrace opportunities to sit with the town leaders and drink tea for several hours before you can actually get down to business. For some this seems counter productive and a waste of time, for others it is one of the routes to building a trusting relationship.

I believe there is an answer to these questions and I think we are getting closer to them, especially with the use of academic professionals embedded in units. I think a lot has been learning in the last 7 years, but certainly it will take more time and knowledge before we know who the "bad guys" are and what it will take to "win the hearts and minds" of the Aghan people.
 
February 18, 2010
Votes: +0

Alan Krutchkoff said:

Electricity in small towns
Guys, when I was there in 1971 a lot of the towns didn't have any electricity. I was just wondering what they're like now. When you go down range and experience the small villages and such how do they deal with that? thanks.
 
February 18, 2010
Votes: +0
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