In our effort to provide original content from wherever the U.S. military goes, we reached out to Geoffrey Ingersoll, a prior U.S. Marine and combat correspondent who got out of the Corps, picked up a Master’s from NYU and now has returned to Afghanistan, “back in the shit” as he says, to embed with Marine units working alongside local forces.
From FOB Delaram II, Geoffrey is sending us his first-hand storytelling for our upcoming section — The Smoke Pit. We’ll hear about Afghan soldiers, the troops who are training them, and what’s being said on the ground. Now meet part of the cast of characters ~ E. Lee & R. Johnson.
The Afghan Doc
In Afghanistan, like many other countries which experience war, there was a “brain drain.”
Most financially stable, educated citizens took their families and left the area, so a lot of the current soldiers in the Afghan Army grew up in Iran or Pakistan, later moving back to Afghanistan. Their parents originally fled the country either when the Russians started bombing, or afterward, when the Taliban reigned.
Said Abbas, a 45 year-old medic, was a secondary school teacher when the latest war broke out. As a science teacher, he seemed particularly fit for this duty. He’s done three years of on-the-job training under one of the few formally trained doctors who stayed to support the war effort.
“I had the ability, and eventually I want to become a doctor. I joined because I wanted to help save injured local nationals and Afghan soldiers.”
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll
The American Doc
It comes over the radio: A little boy with a broken leg is at the gate to the base.
Navy “Doc” Matthew Green, a medical advisor to 2nd Afghan Army Brigade, jumps up and heads over to the Afghan Shock and Trauma centre.
“It’ll be good to see how they handle it, plus depending on the break, they might need my help. If it’s a femur and they move it the wrong way, it could spell the end of that boy’s life.”
Green expresses faith in the abilities of the medical team here to treat certain patients, even though the worst injuries, burns and severed spinal cords, require follow up medical service just not available here in Afghanistan.
“Those are the worst to see,” says another Doc at the Regimental Aid Station, “Really bad burns and paraplegics, because you know that the local villages handle cases like that with euthanasia.”
The Intelligence Officer
The recent spat of “Green on Blue” violence — when an Afghan Police Officer or Soldier shoots Coalition Soldiers — has not struck forces here in northern Helmand and Nimroz provinces, though the news of Koran burnings and massacres spread quickly through the country.
Afghan Intel Officer, Shirn Aqah, says:
“We trust the Marines here completely, the soldiers here have no problem with them. We all know that the acts of a few do not necessarily reflect on the whole. The Afghans are Muslim people. They believe strictly in the Koran. The people who did this, they are the few, they should be punished, but the Afghan soldiers here know that all the other Marines are OK.”
Aqah said he wants peace for Afghanistan, and that starts from the individual soldier on the ground, doing his duty.
“Since I’ve been born, I’ve known nothing but war. I just want peace for Afghanistan, and for our children. My children all want to be doctors, and for that they need good education, and without peace there is no education.”
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersonn
General Abdul Wasea started off his career working with the Mujaheddin.
“It was a holy war against Russian incursions. We believed, truly believed that was a holy war, a war for the well being of our people.”
Hardened from that war, he eventually took up arms with the Northern Alliance, against the ensuing Taliban regime.
“The Taliban, they are not true Muslims. They distort the holy book to run a business, that’s all it is. They were no good, they tried to kill all these people. They had to be stopped.”
Wasea has a hands-on, hands-off approach for handling his Area of Operations, which is just about under complete control of Afghan Security Forces. A straight shooter who knows how to pull social strings, the people trust him. When the Taliban strikes, he uses a well-oiled network of intelligence to hunt them down, coordinating and conducting swift raids.
When, during the Koran burning protests, a group of villagers set fire to an outpost, he replied to his soldiers, “Don’t hurt them, do nothing, let them burn it if it makes them feel better, we’ll just build it again. We have to remember that we are an army for the people.”
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersonn
Russian and American trained, he speaks fluent English. Colonel Abdul Hai is the executive officer and second in command of one of the Afghanistan Army’s more proficient Brigades.
At about five foot 10, square jawed and lean, he looks the part.
“See, I have no belly, you know?” He says, suddenly chuckling. Just as quickly, his face is serious again and he says: “My role here is to assist, organise and lead the special headquarters here, to take care of readiness, training and physical fitness.”
He says he has to train twice a day to stay a step ahead of some of the younger soldiers.
“And plus, the doctor is telling me I have high cholesterol,” he says, breaking into another laugh.
Photo: Geoffrey Ingersonn
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