Shrapnel From Afghanistan V


As I watched the platoon struggle that morning, I realized that I had overlooked a reality of Afghanistan.  We were facing two enemies, not one.  The Haqqani Network’s fighters we could handle.  Any time they chose to challenge us, we would smite them with firepower and make them pay for the effort.  We would not give ground, and I knew we would never know defeat.

But this other enemy was more devious.  How does one do battle with FOB (forward operating base) politics?  At the moment, I was at a complete loss.  Without a doubt, we needed to figure out a way to do it, because more blows like this one would tear the platoon apart…


from the book

Outlaw Platoon

by Sean Parnell with John Bruning



We were here to help.  This was why we had joined the army in the first place.  We hadn’t done it because we lusted to kill.  We had joined because with our flag on our shoulders and the power of the army at our backs, we thought we could help change the world.

Today, we had changed a tiny piece of it…


The villagers watched the entire event.  In his turret, Chris Brown saw Cole die and unleashed a barrage of obscenities at the villagers.  They knew the bomb had been planted; that’s why they’d come outside.  They’d wanted to see what would happen.  Nobody had warned our platoon, despite the fact that we’d been bringing aid supplies to the village all summer long.

Brown racked the bolt on his 240 and swung it around, wailing with grief.  It would have been easy to touch the trigger and walk that machine gun back and forth until those Afghans were nothing but bloody chunks.  A less disciplined man in a less disciplined unit would have done it.  The same sort of thing had triggered the My Lai massacre of Vietnam infamy.

Those villagers who had viewed our men die and suffer wounds as though it were a soccer spectacle owed their lives to Chris Brown’s  sense of duty.  Instead of killing them all, he tipped the barrel up and strafed an empty hillside as he vented his anguish…


Unbeknown to us, some top secret national-level assets had been tracking unusual communications coming from our area.  Over the past several months, they had narrowed those transmissions down to FOB Bermel.

Somebody on post had been using our sat phones to contact an Iranian bomb-making cell operating out of a madrassa just over the Pakistani border.  We had an enemy mole in our midst.

On August 16, the mole had made contact with the Iranian team.  In coded references, he had revealed the exact loaction at which Outlaw Platoon planned to establish an observation post that day…


We defeated the enemy every time they challenged us.  We took to rounding up their dead after each firefight and delivering them to the local mosques.  We masked this move as a gesture honoring Muslim burial rituals that required the deceased to be laid to rest within twenty-four hours of expiring, but the truth is that we were tired of the killing and were making a point: fuck with us, and your sons, brothers, and husbands will die.  Their mangled bodies will be dumped like bloody trash at your houses of worship…


In the pockets of the dead were documents ~ visas, passports, and notebooks that we knew would be of value.  And then we made a startling discovery.  Some of these enemy fighters were not Haqqani or Al Queda at all.

They were Pakistan Army Frontier Corps soldiers, Pakistan’s ragtag border militia.  We found their identity cards…


Now, in January, miles inside Afghanistan, we had discovered that Pakistani Frontier Corps troops had launched a joint offensive with Al Qaida and Haqqani Network fighters against a U.S. combat outpost…


The weapons we collected were later examined by a civilain intelligence team, who matched their serial numbers to recent production runs from Iranian factories…


I stood behind Greeson, Cowan, Sabo, and the rest of our platoon, watching the footage we’d captured.

It started with a rousing recruitment speech delivered in a Pakistani border town.  Jihadist orators urged the crowd of hundreds of men to join the fight against America.  By the time they finished, the enraptured crowd began to dance and sing.

The next scene showed a training range, also in Pakistan.  The Haqqani fighters were practicing short-range marksmanship, a necessary skill for urban fighting.  In other scenes, teams of jihadists practiced evading simulated gunfire.

When the training scenes ended, the screen went black for a moment.  At first I thought that was the end of the DVD, and I almost turned away.  I wish I had.

The next scene showed an Afghan Border Police checkpoint in the aftermath of a night assault.  The enemy had overrun the ABP (Afghan Border Police).  Bodies lay in heaps, illuminated by flashlights.

Then the cameraman stepped in front of a screaming captive…


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