This past week I took, what I consider, my first real trip outside the wire. In the two months that I've been here I have done several missions to the Mazar-e-Sharif airport called Marmal on the other side of town. Marmal is the main base for RC North, home to perhaps a couple thousand soldiers most of whom are Germans and other NATO countries. Mazar-e-Sharif is a fairly safe city, with some of our biggest hazards we have to deal with is traffic and pedestrians. From our base at Camp Spann to Marmal it is all of 12 miles, however the shortest we have ever been able to make the trip is an hour.
Wednesday morning I left on mission in support of our Kandak (Afghan battalion) to Baghlan province and the city of Pol-e-Khomri. The Kandak that we mentor was tasked to put two of their Howitzer guns on top of a major hill/mountain that overlooks the city of Pol-e-Khomri to the immediate east, and fertile valley to the west. While I never got to read the ultimate military plan created by the Afghan Army, I can imagine that by having our battalion set up their guns on top of the major high ground that they are planning a major mission in the area in the future.
The hill, has a name an Afghan name which I can't begin to spell or sound out is called OP West by the coalition forces, has one of the best views that I have seen in any of my three deployments. The valley to the west looks like what I imagine the Napa Valley of California look like. The problem though is that different intel sources have between 30 to 70 Taliban fighters in the area causing trouble. I know that they have been intimidating the local populace, as at night they have forced them to shut down all of their cell towers for fear that the Taliban will blow them up. During the hours of darkness it is impossible to find a cell signal in the area. Additionally I know of several times throughout the past few months in which they have engaged coalition forces driving through the area.
The problem with our Kandak putting their artillery weapons on the hilltop is that I can see it only being used for phsycological warefare, as I do not trust their firing ability with the large cannons. At least their ability to use the weapons as they are truly designed, to be used for indirect fire. I have been told that they are very adapt at using them for direct fire, which will basically turn their giant guns into extremely oversized sniper rifles.
We spent a couple nights on the hill to help them get settled in, and to help them in with assistance from our more advanced weapons. Our new MATVS with their roof mounted CROWS allows to scan the entire valley day or night for any suspicious activities. During my shift one night I was able to scan and see people moving almost 2500meters away. Around three in the morning I was able to four men doing some suspicious activies in a field near a major road. I felt their activities were suspicious simply because nothing good ever occurs at three in the morning. Unfortunately I had no way in which I could call in the good guys to go and check out what they were actually doing, nor did we have good coordination with local Afghan National Police.
In the coming days and weeks I suspect that we will be spending more time on top of the observation post helping out our Afghan soldiers.