Published: May 25th 2010May 25th 2010 Spin Boldak
En route to Spin Boldak
The road east and south from Kandahar to Spin is a drive through a dusty moonscape past remote fortified sangars.
aka 'Spin'..... the name has a ring to it.... on the main supply route from Kandahar to the Pakistan border and thence to Chaman and Quetta. All now beyond the writ of the authorities and firmly in the hands of the Taliban who extort tolls from the convoys that bring much needed consumables to Kandahar from Pakistan and further afield via Karachi.
Our mission (which we chose to accept): to visit our Field Coordinator, Justin, a tough young ex-Marine, who is based out at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Blackhawk a few miles out of Spin Boldak district HQ and adjacent to a large semi-permanent shanty town of 'Kuchi" or nomads. These are the poorest of the poor and move with their herds from one collection of these huts to another.
The main supply route (MSR) is pretty safe. We pass guard posts and little fortified 'sangars' (hill top emplacements built of rocks usually housing a machine gun and a couple of soldiers) all along the route. Every so often we pull over for ISAF or Afghan National Army (ANA) call signs. This is the jargon of the today's war, a "call sign" is a what used to
Howie takes charge
Our excellent CPO looks out for us as we huddle in the armoured Land Cruiser. You do NOT like to be immobile on the road.
be called a "unit'... a group of vehicle born soldiery identified by a radio call sign... Our call sign is "Viper" as in "Viper 1 this is Viper 2 green call sign approaching figures 5, over"; "Viper 2, Viper 1, roger that"
.... the friendly ("green") call sign thunders past in their gigantic armoured Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, helmeted heads with the inevitable dark glasses peering over .50 calibre machine guns as we huddle by the road. Get in their way and they will undoubtedly remove you with "heavy kinetics" - another polite term for lethal force. But we are happy its a green call sign; if the call is"Viper 1, this is 2, red coming up fast!"
, we wonder if this is a lethal force applied in our direction by the Taliban via something like a Corolla, a favourite and suicidal means of delivering a bomb. A few days ago one such demolished a convoy in Kabul and killed 18 people, mainly innocent Aghan bystanders.
A short drama ensues as one of our team's armoured cars gets a puncture. Our 'shooters' split arse (that's a British Army term!) out into the roadsides covering all approaches with Russian-made
These FOBs re-define the phrase 'shit hole'. Hats off to those military and civilians who have to live there. This is the front line in the Afghan War.
PKM light machine guns. Our CPO (close protection officer) Howie stands guard in front of our car. All done, we make it safely to our work site to meet Justin and his local team and then on to FOB Blackhawk for lunch kindly provided by the 8/1 Cavalry, a squadron within the 5/2 Brigade (U.S. Army)1/5th Cavalry of the US Army; we are grateful for their hospitality These FOBs are the most ghastly places. Absolutely devoid of greenery and heavily fortified against rocket and small arms attack. Residents, both military and civilian. live in containers outfitted as portable homes. It is both raining and dusty at the same time. The sacrifice these guys make is amazing.
Then back to Kandahar, a relieved sigh that we have not encountered any Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) when we hear "Viper Control, this is Viper 1, entering your location"; "Viper 1, roger that, welcome home, out"
. We dump our sweaty body armour and head for a shower. NB: thanks to EKM who corrected my original text with the correct army unit in which his son is serving as a Cavalry Scout at FOB Blackhawk. We all appreciate his service, you have to
go there to understand it.
Some of the poor folk we are fighting for... or fighting against depending on which time of the day it is.