Two Marines training Afghan army units underfire
Three stone houses and a cluster of sandbagged bunkers cling to a slope above the Korangal Valley, forming an oval perimeter roughly 75 yards long. The oval is reinforced with timber and ringed with concertina wire.There is more. It is a good story about a couple of Marines trying to turn an Afghan unit into a fighting force. It may take awhile, but these guys like the work and are pretty good at it.
An Afghan flag flutters atop a tower where Afghan soldiers look out, ducking when rifle shots snap by.
This is Firebase Vimoto, named for Pfc. Timothy R. Vimoto, an American soldier killed in the valley two years ago. If all goes according to the Pentagon’s plan, this tiny perimeter — home to an Afghan platoon and two Marine Corps infantrymen — contains the future of Afghanistan. The Obama administration hopes that eventually the Afghan soldiers within will become self-sufficient, allowing the fight against the Taliban to be shifted to local hands.
For now this vulnerable little land claim — in the hostile village of Babeyal and supported by a network of American infantry positions nearby — offers something else: a fine-grained glimpse inside the Afghan war, and the remarkably young men often at the front of it.
There are nearly 30 Afghan soldiers here. Their senior mentor, Cpl. Sean P. Conroy, of Carmel, N.Y., is 25 years old. His assistant, Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Murray, of Fort Myers, Fla., is 21.
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.
In Corporal Conroy’s war, two Marines train Afghans in weapons, tactics, first aid, hygiene and leadership. They keep the firebase supplied with ammunition, water, batteries and food. They defecate in a rusting barrel and urinate in a tube that slopes off a roof and drains into the air. Fly strips surround them. They have no running water; their sleeping bunker stinks of filthy clothes and sweat.
The corporal has tied a flea collar through his belt loops; he needs it like a dog. He served two tours in Iraq. His four-year enlistment ended last month, but he extended for nine months when promised he would be assigned to a combat outpost in Afghanistan.He hopes to attend college later. For now, he represents a class of Marine and soldier that has quietly populated the ranks since 2003. He enlisted not to pick up job skills or to travel the world at government expense. He enlisted to fight. “We’re the new generation,” he said. “I’ll tell you what — there are a lot of young Marines who’ve seen more combat than all of the guys up top who joined in the 90s.”
He is supremely cocky, but unpretentious. When he met two journalists from The New York Times he asked what news agency they represented. Hearing the answer, he replied with one extended syllable: “Boooooo.” He prefers a good tabloid, he said.
“They are experienced and understand the principles of the ambush,” he said. “But they are not very good shots. If these guys knew how to shoot like even the U.S. Army, we would be taking 50 percent casualties on all of our patrols.”
His statement about the Taliban skills rings true. They know how to ambush, but they don't have the skills to do it successfully and they have to skedaddle pretty quick to avoid dying under an A-10 attack.
In contrast to the Marines on the hill tops, this story presents the life of luxury for some civilians in Kabul.