Tuesday, February 27, 2007
if you can find an afghan rebel that the moscow bullets missed, ask him what he thinks of voting communist:
In light of the attack today on Bagram AFB during Dick Cheney's overnight visit, check out Matthew Cole's piece for Salon about braving the elevation of Afghanistan's lawless Nuristan province:

The Kamdesh base is the northernmost American outpost in Afghanistan, in an area of Nuristan so remote that local villagers asked American troops in August, when they arrived, if they were Russian. The base itself is not more than a quarter-mile wide, on a valley floor, next to a clear, trout-filled river. Three-thousand-foot mountains rise above the base on both sides of the river. The base is insecure, susceptible to rocket and small-arms fire from nearly every direction. A row of Humvees, all mounted with grenade-filled Mark-19 machine guns, face the closest mountain, which nearly hangs over the front of the base. When I was there the soldiers hadn't yet named the base, and had made up their own name, Warheight, for the imposing peak. From Kamdesh, a small outpost near the Pakistani border, to Naray, a larger base 25 miles south, to another border outpost called Camp Lybert, the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry -- the so-called 3-71 -- was supposed to control a 220-square-mile triangle of territory.

The Provincial Reconstruction Team in the area has limited mobility, leaving reconstruction and civil affairs to the 10th Mountain Division (just recently replaced by the 82nd Airborne), who face hostility from the locals:

The Americans had been feeling good about their progress. But it was clear that all the collateral damage had further strained a relationship with the locals that was already tense. The shura, a collection of middle-aged men from all the nearby villages, arrived complaining of the deteriorating situation. Forty strong, in stained salwar kameez and flat hats, they sat in rows of white plastic chairs inside an uncompleted building on the base. One man after another stood up to direct his anger, through a translator, at Feagin and the CIA chief. "You told us when you came here that you would not hurt innocent and peaceful people," said a man with an ink-black beard stretching to the middle of his chest. "You have big guns and helicopters with good technology, surely you can tell the difference between those who are innocent and those who are not. You told us if we helped you, the Americans would not harm us. We are prisoners in our villages now!" Several of the men nodded their heads as the man sat back down.

Lt. Col. Feagin, whose chest seemed to point upward, sat still on an unfinished stone wall facing the shura. "There was no intent to target anyone but our enemy," he told them. "If the enemy continues to fight us, many more will die. I am certain." A few gunshots echoed in the valley. Feagin pointed to the direction of the noise and said, "This is part of the problem. The only thing the enemy can bring is fear, intimidation and death." Feagin informed the shura that the injured villagers had been flown to Bagram Air Base to get "the best medicine and treatment the Army has to offer." He then offered to hire more fighting-age men for the Afghan army unit that would soon be posted in the valley.

Lt. Dan Dillow, executive officer of the 3-71's Bravo Company, later told me the counterinsurgency model was the only way to fight the war in Afghanistan. "I don't like civil affairs" -- building roads and schools, offering jobs -- "but you need it out here," he said. You have to give them something. You can't defeat the Nuristanis. They know who is ambushing us and when it's going to happen, but they won't tell us. They have us by the balls and they know it."

--Spencer Ackerman