Friday, May 1, 2009

A Soldier, His Rifle, His Courage.

C. J. CHIVERS reporting for the New York Times has earned a reputation that matches men like Michael Yon whose reporting of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan have been compared to legends like Ernie Pyle and Joseph L. Galloway.

I am going to link a quartet of C.J. Chiver's reports to provide a window on what our young soldiers are doing in Afghanistan. Reading his dispatches and viewing the accompanying photo essay by Tyler Hicks places the reader along side our countries finest.

This first article profiles Marine Cpl. Sean P. Conroy, of Carmel, N.Y 25 who is the senior of two Marines assigned to train and advise an Afghan Army platoon at Firebase Vimoto in the Korangal Valley in Northeast Afghanistan.

On the ground, far from the generals in Kabul and the policy makers in Washington, the hour-by-hour conduct of the war rests in part in the deeds of men this young, who have been given latitude to lead as their training and instincts guide them.

Each day they organize and walk Afghan Army patrols in the valley below, some of the most dangerous acreage in the world. Each night they participate in radio meetings with the American posts along the ridges, exchanging plans and intelligence, and plotting the counterinsurgency effort in the ancient villages below.

Read more: A Young Marine’s Dream Job

This next dispatch reports on a daring escape from a deadly ambush where one American soldier is killed. I linked this article earlier in a post entitled.A Question of National Resolve

And in a prelude to the events reported above came this story that reads like an account of past firefights in our own countries early history.

Fight by fight, the infantryman’s war in Afghanistan is often waged on the Taliban’s terms. Insurgents ambush convoys and patrols from high ridges or long ranges and slip away as the Americans, weighed down by equipment, return fire and call for air and artillery support. Last week a patrol from the First Infantry Division reversed the routine.

An American platoon surprised an armed Taliban column on a forested ridgeline at night, and killed at least 13 insurgents, and perhaps many more, with rifles, machine guns, Claymore mines, hand grenades and a knife.

The one-sided fight, fought on the slopes of the same mountain where a Navy Seal patrol was surrounded in 2005 and a helicopter with reinforcements was shot down, does not change the war. It was one of hundreds of firefights that have occurred in the Korangal Valley, an isolated region where local insurgents and the Americans have been locked in a bitter stalemate for more than three years.

And returning the the scene of a fight on Tom Ricks Foreign Policy Blog .. What happened at Wanat? (I)

Chivers joined the soldiers as they prepared to re-enter the valley.

First Lt. C. Carter Cheek stood in the Afghan rain. His patrol had climbed a switchback road leading to the Taliban-dominated village of Wanat, the location of the bloodiest battle for American forces in Afghanistan since 2005.

Enemy spotters looked down from higher ridges, using hand-held radios to relay word of the American advance. “Basically from here north, it’s game on,” Lieutenant Cheek said. If the platoon moved farther toward Wanat, it would probably be ambushed, he said.
Lieutenant Cheek, 25, is a platoon leader for Company C of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry. In nine months in one of Afghanistan’s more violent areas, the company has been a witness to a subtly changing war.

Reading these accounts sends me thinking back to an earlier time when American soldiers were sent into harms way with mostly their training and the gear they carried to help them prevail. We may have air assets, artillery and predator drones, but in the final closing it is the soldier, his rifle and his guts that are the thin red line holding back the tide or piercing the barricade.

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