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"Carpathian's Hawks," the Romanian 182nd Infantry Battalion

By Michael Fumento

There are an amazing 37 nations taking part in the war in Afghanistan. Want to hear something even more amazing? Out of all those countries, a grand total of six are willing to send their troops into combat: The United States, Britain, Canada, Estonia (which is smaller than several American cities), the Netherlands and Romania. Italy keeps its troops far from combat, yet their very presence here almost toppled the Italian government. Turkish soldiers have an excellent reputation for fighting and it would help that they are Muslim. But no go.

Surrounded by Romanians. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
The same for such large nations as France and Spain, although the French did boast recently -- I'm not making this up -- that they dropped a single 25-pound bomb in support of Canadian fighters. I'll bet it missed. Spain, of course, suffered a major al Qaeda attack on its subway system. Given a chance to hit back, they say: "No queremos." Germany, which once held almost all of continental Europe and part of Africa and Russia under its jackboot, wants to be nowhere near Taliban or al Qaeda bullets.

Here at Lagman FOB we have soldiers from the U.S., a few from the Afghan National Army, four technicians from the Netherlands about to be replaced by Brits, and there's an Arab nation that has a medical team here but their government is very sensitive about their presence and I've been asked not to identify them. And finally, we have the guys who run the show here: the 500-member Romanian 182nd Infantry Battalion, labeled "Carpathian's Hawks." The reference is to the mountain range, which virtually encircles the country.

Commanding the 812th is Maj. Ovidiu Liviu Uifaleanu. His troops launch more than 50 missions a week, most supporting the Afghan National Police who protect the vital route of Highway 1, which didn't use to be so important until it was converted from secondary road to a fine piece of asphalt highway. It goes directly from Qalat to Kandahar but also tremendously cuts the time needed to get to Kabul.

An array of Romanian small arms, with a Dragunov 7.62 sniper rifle in foreground. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
The Taliban (which here is a generalized term for the enemy, be they Afghan, Pakistani, Chechen, or Arab) know they don't have the strength to hold on to a piece of it for any length of time, but they make regular efforts to overcome Afghan police posts either with weapons or with bribes. They can then exact bribes from travelers or, far worse, kidnap them. The 812th goes from post to post finding out what they need (pretty much everything) and with an armored quick reaction force. Actual combat is rare because the Romanians firepower is overwhelming, but they did have a good shoot-'em-up with the Taliban a few weeks ago.

The Romanians travel in new American Humvees (they just took possession of six more) or in Russian-style but Romanian-made armored personnel carriers (APCs). (All of their weapons are also made in Romania, including the interestingly-named antitank guided missile system, the FAGOT.) During a live fire exercise they allowed me to fire both the mounted guns on the APCs, the 14.5 millimeter, which is similar to our M-2 .50 caliber and a 7.62 machine gun which is similar to the M-240s we sometimes mount on our Humvees.

The Romanians believe far more in comfort than do the Americans. They either wear rolled-up sleeves on their uniform jackets or simply a t-shirt that has the same camouflage pattern as the uniform. They also often wear shorts. Americans wear their sleeves down at all times and the only shorts they have are boxers and briefs. During their live-fire exercise, the Romanians didn't wear body armor. During the American live-fire exercise I went on the next day we did wear body armor because that's what you're going to be wearing in combat.

APCs and a Humvee. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
Carpathian's Hawks was constituted in 1995, not long after the country's anti-communist revolution. It has seen service in Angola, southern Iraq and in Afghanistan from 202-2003. It's currently in the middle of a six-month mission here, and will be replaced by another Romanian unit when it leaves.

(Other Romanian units have served in southern Iraq, including at a base camp called "Dracula." While Dracula or Vlad Tepes is seen as a figurative or literal monster in much of the West, he's a hero in Romania because the rather unorthodox methods of Vlad the Impaler did keep the advancing Turkish empire at bay. Say what you will about old Dracula, but without him Romania would probably be Muslim today instead of being overwhelming Christian Orthodox.)

When I asked the Major (and that's what I call him, for fear of the 100 percent probability of mispronouncing his name) why Romania is fighting here when nations with vastly larger militaries refuse to fire a shot in anger, he gives a soldier's answer. "At higher echelons they make those decisions," he says. But "We are keeping our promise as a member of NATO." Aha! But Romania didn't join NATO until 2004. "Then," he explains, "we were keeping our promise as a membership of the Partnership for Peace." That organization, he says, is (and these are my words), sort of a prep school for NATO.

On the firing range (the closest soldier has an empty RPG). Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
I've got a different answer, though. Aside from Great Britain, the major nations of Europe have grown decadent. Even though several of them face a far greater threat from radical Islam than the U.S. or Romania, they're quite happy to let others do the fighting and dying. Romania, after years of involuntary servitude in the Soviet empire, wants very much to be a part of the world community. Countries like France and Germany want to lead the world community but won't spend a drop of blood in doing so.

In any case, God bless the Romanians. I'm going on patrol with them tomorrow and will blog on it.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.

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April 19, 2007 09:48 AM  ·  Afghanistan ~ Military