On the Border

In Khowst, the difficult thing was finding enemy insurgents with guns in their hands.  Obvious when you think about it, the banality of the point underscores an important aspect of combat in Afghanistan.  To kill insurgents in numbers you had to be either very smart or very lucky.

The best places to find bad guys were the infiltration routes in the mountain passes that marked the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  Clearly, insurgents used Pakistan as a safe haven and staging base and would cross back and forth between the two countries under cover of night.  Tactically, the border really wasn’t the Afghan National Army’s purview.  There’s an Afghan Border Police and designated American units whose job that was.  But things happen, and often we found ourselves operating very close to the Durand Line.

Fairly early on, I put two of our Roughrider ETTs on-board helicopters with a company of ANA soldiers and a company of American soldiers.  The mission was to set ambushes along known infiltration routes in Terra Zayi district in eastern Khowst.

The second night in, an estimated 75 armed insurgents trundled down one of the mountain “rat trails” straight into  our ambush position.  The insurgents had little chance in the face of well-laid machine guns, Claymore mines, night vision devices, and pre-planned artillery.  The coordination between the Americans and the ANA, brokered by the Roughrider ETTs, was effective.  Many of the insurgents who were not killed in the initial onslaught were picked off by helicopter gunships as they retreated to Pakistan.

We learned later that the infiltrators were recent graduates of a militant madrassa.  Mostly Bengalis, they were better equipped than you might think. Each carried a small backpack filled with ammunition and rations.  Each wore a new pair of tennis shoes.  I’m not sure what their mission was; it may have been as simple as gaining experience moving as a military formation in hostile territory.

We saw something similar a month later.  I was not there personally, but one of our armored convoys was ambushed by five insurgents from Azerbaijan at a location very close to the battle described above.   By all tokens, the Azerbaijanians were hapless and their mission suicidal. In the gun-battle they initiated, two of them were killed immediately, two were wounded and taken prisoner, and one managed to flee.  No Americans were hurt or trucks damaged.  The prisoners told us that they had entered Pakistan less than a week before.  I didn’t lose any sleep over it, but I wondered what their dead thought as they realized life was going to end for them in a matter of seconds on a barren patch of road in a place they had never seen before.  I can’t help but think that the recompenses of a jihad death must have seemed pretty thin, but who knows?

As elusive as defeating the insurgency in Khowst was overall, sometimes, just sometimes, the enemy made things reasonably easy for us.

Update:  After writing this post, I discovered a 29 December 2010 newspaper article on the same subject–securing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in Khowst.  Link below:


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