- Posted February 4, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The war through your eyes: Iraq 10 years on
Currently, we're in Afghanistan, advising an Afghan Army Battalion on combat operations and small unit logistics.
As the sun crawls behind the mountains to our west, our party becomes aware of the cooling air and settling frost. Sitting on the front stoop of the Afghan intelligence officer's billets, we are warming our hands with hot, sweet tea, and occasionally picking at raisins and cashews. Talking through interpreters, we go over tomorrow's meeting details and planning requirements for upcoming operations.
The sit downs are sometimes mundane and unnecessary, a means for us to chat or schedule other meetings, yet they are also our last chance of ensuring our counterparts understand and can remain a competent fighting force.
With each encounter, I can't help but think about my time in Iraq; as we close out our post here, impart final advice and admonishment to our counterparts, and uneasily live out of our bags waiting for the flight home, a feeling of uneasiness always takes over.
Many of us felt the same uneasiness in Iraq.
It had little to do with any combat related danger. It was more a feeling of not being finished. There was more room for improvement, more ways to help them work out their logistics issues, or a more efficient way for them to arrange their combat patrols.
In Iraq, I worked both Route Clearance, sweeping roads of IEDs and mines, as well as advised an Iraqi Army platoon. We also advised the local militia, and worked with tribal elders, villagers, and the city council of Yethrib to ensure they were ready for an Iraq without the US.
It seems egotistical to even question their resilience, but our presence had changed the political and social landscape immensely. And it never felt like we were done.
Many of us were just grasping what it meant to advise; pulled from the newly republished pages of the Counter Insurgency manual, it took long nights and countless weeks of mentally changing soldiers' mindsets from engaging the enemy to advising a host nation. It was arduous, and again, it never really felt complete. But we tried hard.
We shared meals at night in garden courtyards, patrolled foul smelling sewers with our counterpart Platoon, sat in hot, clammy meeting rooms listening to local Sheikhs argue about what was best for their slice of the population.
I still wonder how many of those we came in contact with are doing nowadays; if the Canning Factory in Balad is still working, if they still kept the Yethrib army outpost open, and what eventually happened to Al Bakir Airbase? We left in 2008, handing over our contacts, relationships, sweat, and blood to the final troops of the Iraq war.
After leaving, I tried to follow the outcome of the country. As John LeCarre put it, “Chaos, is the precondition of democratic awareness.” I know there will be a favorable outcome down the road. As the Middle East goes through another identity crisis following the Arab Spring, I can only hope it spares as many good lives as possible.
The uneasiness creeps in again here in Afghanistan. I can only say our team will try our best to ensure the Afghan Army Battalion we are working with is effective and capable at securing this region of the country. Only time will tell.