Meetings with local leaders a goal for troops on foot patrols
Stars and Stripes June 27, 2007
CAMP BLESSING, Afghanistan — Staff Sgt. Sean Samaroo gives a briefing before soldiers with 2nd Platoon, Company C, set out on a foot patrol from the headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.
Mission goals include checking to see if a newly built road can handle Humvee traffic, finding a girls school that 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom has heard about, and meeting with village leaders.
He doesn’t mention anything about hunting down enemy forces to engage in combat.
"It should be OK," Brostrom says at the start of the patrol. "We usually don’t have problems in this area."
Soldiers from the Vicenza, Italy-based battalion have conducted about 9,000 patrols during their 14 months in Kunar Province. Less than one in 10 of them end up with troops engaging with enemy forces.
On this patrol, soldiers pass by workers constructing a primitive road that will eventually lead past the village where the troops stopped. The only way for anyone to get into these villages is a narrow path that cuts close to the river that helped carve out the valley.
The road, only a few kilometers at this point, looks like it’s passable for Humvees. It might be that Brostrom and his platoon will test it soon. He has about 15 major villages and dozens of smaller ones in his area of responsibility.
The next day, the platoon heads across the river on a mounted patrol of four Humvees. This time, it’s Sgt. Matthew Gobble’s turn to do the briefing. He’ll be driving the third vehicle in the convoy, with Spc. Matthew Phillips on the radio and Spc. Tyler Hanson manning a 50 mm machine gun from the turret atop the Humvee.
The plan is to visit Haji Arif, a local leader who lives in the village of Shalam. The base has been attacked with rockets for several days.
"He is a guy who can find out what’s going on," Brostrom says. "Some say he plays both sides. I don’t think so. I think he’s a good guy."
The mood is a bit more tense on the way back. Enemy forces often attack such convoys on the return leg of their journeys.
"The last two times, we got lit up pretty good up here," Brostrom says.
So they stop and Hanson and the other gunners fire off several rounds at rock formations on the other side of the river to see if their fire will stir up any enemy activity. It doesn’t. The only activity is a rush of children who swarm around the Humvees, looking to pick up the spent cartridges. They’ll recycle the brass and other materials.
Little is wasted in a country as poor as Afghanistan.