I have a soft spot for hybrid warrior-poets: C.J. Chivers is a talented New York Times reporter who covered the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past several years. He was also a Marine infantry officer who served in two dangerous war zones — in Kuwait and Iraq during the ’90-’91 Persian Gulf War and near my old stomping grounds in Los Angeles during the ’92 riots — which suggests he knows a bit about the use of air power for the fight in Afghanistan. The grunts in the peanut gallery will mutter “no shit, Sherlock” under their breaths, but I think this article gives the uninitiated a vivid illustration of the rugged terrain and operational challenges faced by our troops in that theater.
I thought I was in fair physical shape when I arrived in Afghanistan in ’03. Then I went on my first hike, up to a mountaintop observation post called Bull Run near the city of Asadabad in Kunar Province. Going up burns your lungs, going down burns your legs. Add 40 pounds of body armor, maybe an 80 to 100-pound rucksack if you’re staying the night. Pack light, freeze at night — so the old grunt saying goes.
Helos and fast-movers were used as surveillance platforms as well as for close air support. A joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) or forward air controller (FAC) undergoes intensive training to be ready for his job. Should be easy for the Afghans — no planes, no close air support.
In any case, this is a worthwhile read.