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  February 16, 2009

Combat Outpost: From the Afghan frontline

Guardian: US military's most dangerous outposts show just how western forces are losing ground

As US and the UK forces struggle for a way forward in Afghanistan, John D McHugh's unique film from one of the US military's most dangerous outposts shows just how western forces are losing ground to the Taliban.

VOICEOVER: This is Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. I was on my way to a remote combat outpost. Already the fighting I'd seen was intense. The last stretch of the journey is too dangerous by road. Everyone must fly here. But even helicopters come under fire.

US SOLDIER: This building here got hit by a recoilless round. It took the roof off. There were a bunch of soldiers living in it at the time. Nobody got hurt inside it, but you can see what it did to the roof and the sides. And they're all peppered with bullet holes on the side of it too.

VOICEOVER: I've come to embed with US Marines in the mountains. Little did I realize that over the next month I would barely venture farther than this trench. My first morning set the tone for things to come.

US SOLDIER: That's an incoming. [If] you hear it cracking, that's incoming. Like that.

US SOLDIER: That's mortar. It's outgoing.

VOICEOVER: These guys have spent almost nine months under fire.

US SOLDIER: Incoming. Incoming.

US SOLDIER: Whoa, whoa, whoa!


VOICEOVER: The Taliban control the high ground and attack almost every day. Seray combat outpost is one of hundreds in Afghanistan. These outposts are an integral part of America's strategy. In theory, they will win over the locals while disrupting the Taliban's movements. The Afghan National Army, or ANA, is another part of this strategy, and the Marines are here to mentor them. When three Taliban suspects are detained, the ANA called for the Americans' advice.

US SOLDIER: Last night we received intel that there was a dead person in the hills from the attack the other day. They retrieved the body last night, and they had to take the body for burial. We think that this may be the vehicle that was used to transport that dead person last night. One of the pieces of evidence we use to determine who's good and who's bad are usually their shoe type. They got shoes like he's wearing and shoes like the other guy's wearing. They usually wear shoes like this to move around the mountains a lot easier. If they were down in the valley, they'd be wearing sandals like that guy's wearing, right there. The ANA will most likely detain them and get them to a more competent questioning authority. And we'll go with it from there.

VOICEOVER: Just a few hours later, these men were released, much to the Americans' annoyance.

US SOLDIER: People understand that there's a war, but I don't think people understand anymore what war really is. A lot of the reports you see are reports out of the big bases—the Camp Fallujahs, the Baghram Airfield area. The big areas is where you're getting the reports from that it's secure, there's not a lot of fighting going on. It's austere locations like the one we're in right now, Seray, that the fighting is happening. You're the first reporter in eight months that I have seen up here. And I'm sure there's tons of other little bases in Afghanistan that nobody knows about.

VOICEOVER: Helicopters provide a tempting target for the Taliban waiting in the surrounding mountains.

US SOLDIER: He's over here. He's coming in. He's got two escorts, so that's pretty good; he's got two Apaches with him right now. The bird's getting shot at right now. It's taking full-on fire again.

VOICEOVER: Despite the danger, there is no choice, as all supplies must come in by air.

US SOLDIER: If they hit a helicopter, that's a huge deal for the Taliban, alright? That's a lot of money for them. They get paid a lot. You know. And the Taliban and/or the ACM, the anti-coalition militia, that are up here are not stupid. They know what they're doing. They're not just up there standing there with a bright, white man-dress on. We've got the most sophisticated equipment in the world—helicopters with great thermals, all these sights that can see to, like, Jupiter, and things like that—but we can't pick up on one guy who's sitting 800, 700 meters away from us, shooting at us.

VOICEOVER: With Taliban eyes always on them, the soldiers can only leave the base under cover of darkness. Nearby villages provide a sanctuary for fighters and weapons.

US SOLDIER: Okay. Grab your four soldiers, and I'll talk to Corporal ["IN-dih-ka"] on the radio. Go into Kabul. Take them up this mountain a little bit just to look around.

US SOLDIER: Okay. I've got a team of four coming to you. I want you to push up on that rock outcropping that's just to your front. Just get eyes on the village. I want to try to use as much surprise as we can. Over.

VOICEOVER: The idea is that the Afghan soldiers plan and conduct these operations themselves. The reality is, without the Americans president, these patrols probably wouldn't happen at all.

US SOLDIER: Those are some sweet shoes. Where'd you get those?

VOICEOVER: As usual, there is no sign of the Taliban. In fact, the only thing the search turns up is a British-made Lee-Enfield rifle, manufactured in 1902.

US SOLDIER: Whose is this?

VOICEOVER: Already over 100 years old, it probably arrived the last time the British were fighting in Afghanistan—in 1919.

US SOLDIER: There's nothing in there.

VOICEOVER: Despite the absence of Taliban fighters, a villager accidentally let slip their recent presence.

US SOLDIER: So you've talked to the bad guys. That's what you just told me. You have talked to the bad guys. That—no, don't say, "Nah." That's what you just said. You just said the Taliban said they shot the artillery, they shot the mortars, you should go talk to them for being paid. Is that not what he just said?

MAN: Yeah.

US SOLDIER: Now I have trouble believing you. Anything you tell me I'm going to doubt now.

US SOLDIER: Fucking dude just said he talked to the Taliban and the Taliban told him to come see us to get paid for his sheep and his goat the guy killed. When I said something to him and questioned him, 'cause I actually understood what he said, now he's changing his story up on me. I'm fucking ready to—. Makes me mad.

VOICEOVER: Another day, another attack.

US SOLDIER: I got a little fucking action on the—. Oh! Shit!


US SOLDIER: That was outgoing.


US SOLDIER: No, that was incoming.

US SOLDIER: That was incoming.

US SOLDIER: It fucking sucks to get shot at and not know where you're getting shot at from.

US SOLDIER: You okay? As soon as I popped my head up with the binocs and I start looking, they pop rounds right off at me. Right at me. Motherfuckers.

US SOLDIER: It's like fucking rocket science. Shoot back, do something, instead of just sitting here and let us get fucking—.

US SOLDIER: It's their show right now. They're the ones up in the mountain. They can see us; we can't see them. We're stuck in our hooch. I can't do nothing. 'Cause all I want to do is put two crosshairs on the guy who's shooting right at my face, but I can't.

US SOLDIER: Holy shit!

US SOLDIER: That was fucking—.

US SOLDIER: See? Yeah! That's how you fucking [inaudible]

VOICEOVER: These outposts are supposed to give the Americans control of the surrounding area. Clearly, it's not working.

US SOLDIER: They've been fighting in this country for years. They know how to fight against us, and we have a hard time countering them. It's almost like what the Russians ran into while the Russians were here.

INTERVIEWER: So who's gaining ground in this fight?

US SOLDIER: They are.

VOICE ON RADIO: Mortar fire.

US SOLDIER: Got a shot, got another mortar round coming in. I fucking hate [inaudible]


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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