"... we have doctrine [the counter insurgency Field Manual] ... in that doctrine it says specifically, do not do these things, and the things it says not to do, is everything we are doing here. Do not get on big bases. Do not ride around in armored convoys isolated from the civilian population. Try not to interact with them with helmet, flak jackets and weapons pointed at them because it tends to stifle conversation. In order to get anything done, you have to put in the time, drinking the tea, talking about the weather, checking on the health of every damn person of every friggin' family. Then you got to sit around for a while, just to show that you have the patience to endure the tedium that follows as you negotiate..."
He's got a point. Putting troops on large military bases, separated from the community, and having them ride around in large, armored vehicles is not going to foster better relations with local communities. It can make the locals feel angry. It's been eight years since the U.S. has been in Afghanistan, and there is not a lot to show for it. So the extremists take advantage of Afghans' feeling of isolation and attack a convoy or plant an IED, which means the U.S. military personnel go out even less frequently into the villages, and when they do, they are even more heavily armored, which makes the locals even angrier and feeling more isolated. It is a vicious cycle and it needs to be broken.
We hop a flight to Bagram Air Field and find members of the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division -- the "surge" brigade -- who are preparing to convoy down to their new headquarters at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank -- where we had been a few days prior with Brigadier General Mark Milley. The convoy of armored vehicles is lined up. Soldiers are finishing loading their HUMVEES and armored trucks and strapping tarps on top. The courage and morale of the soldiers is amazing. Some have spent previous tours in Iraq or Afghanistan, and they are unfailing in their commitment to the mission. The large footprint of tents and huts being constructed at FOB Shank makes clear that U.S. forces will be here for a while.
We return to Kabul via road -- not our first choice -- but it is our only choice because the weather prevents flying. A few months ago, making this trip wouldn't have been considered an issue. Today, there is more of a security concern.
We are stopped once at a roundabout by Afghan police, not always known for their discipline or regard for the law. It turns out that some Afghans saw us transferring our gear from our military escort vehicle to our private vehicle outside the Bagram gate and had called the police. Sometimes things are stolen from Bagram was the reason the police gave our Afghan producer who was with us. More likely, the police probably wanted a "piece" of what we had. Corruption rules here. Fortunately, a call from our producer to a police superior at the Ministry of Interior solves our dilemma and we are on our way to the capital.
The next morning we hear sirens. A bomb has gone off near Camp Eggars, one of the military bases within Kabul, and not far from our hotel. Several soldiers -- and many more civilians -- are injured. One soldier later dies.