Dispatches by Series Death in the Corn

Death in the Corn: Part III of III

British 2 Para snipers search for the local “sniper” taking potshots at FOB Gibraltar.

Published: 22 September 2008

Living with British troops of 2 Para at FOB Gibraltar and watching them fight, I witnessed one of the great paradoxes of Afghanistan. The troops are fighting hard and killing the enemy. They are professional and extremely competent. Their morale is high. They are doing a great job. And we are losing the war.

Their troubles with a local sniper demonstrate some of the complexities and frustrations of this war, which the British public don’t even call a “war.” The British soldiers know this is a real war, but the British at home characterize it as a “conflict.” Meanwhile, Americans at home seem to mostly have forgotten about Afghanistan, though luckily they are starting to wake up. Yet it’s obvious here on the ground that this situation could deteriorate into something far worse than we ever saw in Iraq.

Read more: Death in the Corn: Part III of III

Death in the Corn: Part II of III

Published: 17 September 2008

The ambush was set, but “Terry” Taliban didn’t step into it. The most successful hunters are not the ones who bag something every time, but the ones who hunt all the time, and 2 Para has been hunting the most dangerous prey. The soldiers of C-co 2 Para are not sure how many they’ve killed in the past five months, but the estimates are around 200, and during the days I spent with them, their average daily kill would put them well over that number.

Moving out of our ambush position, we set off from the ANA (Afghan National Army) compound to “tab” (walk) back to Gib, watching every step. While a soldier with a metal detector swept a skinny path ahead, other soldiers scanned the flanks, simultaneously trying to step in the prints just laid. The soldiers watched not only for ambush and mines and other bombs, but for “dickers.” Dicker is a British term derived from the war in Northern Ireland, where the enemy had a simple but effective system of look-outs to track British patrols and activities.

Read more: Death in the Corn: Part II of III

Death in the Corn: Part I of III

Published: 15 September 2008
Helmand Province, Afghanistan

FOB Gibraltar: made from an abandoned farmer’s compound.

The soldiers are living like animals at a little rat’s nest called FOB Gibraltar. They call it “Gib.” Named after the lynchpin of British naval dominance in the Mediterranean, this cluster of mud huts in the middle of hostile territory is more like Fort Apache, Afghanistan. The British soldiers from C-Company 2 Para live in ugly conditions, fight just about every day, and morale is the best I have seen probably anywhere.

Read more: Death in the Corn: Part I of III

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