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Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan
By Michael Fumento
After three embeds in Al Anbar, what was once the forgotten part of Iraq, it was time to visit the "Forgotten War." Afghanistan. A commercial flight brings me to Kuwait International Airport, then a short ride to Ali Al Salem Air Force Base (AFB), and the very next day a relatively comfortable C-17 cargo jet brings me to Bagram AFB in Afghanistan.
I'm waiting at the Pat Tillman USO center (named after the football star who gave up almost everything after 9/11 to become a Ranger and then did give up everything when he lost his life in Afghanistan. I shouldn't have been surprised but was when I ran into my friend and fellow citizen embed Andrew Lubin, a Marine vet and fellow citizen embed. I met him last October in Baghdad and then we crossed paths again in Ramadi. So suddenly we're in the same building in Afghanistan. Yeah, it is a small world after all.
|The sun rises over the Romanian convoy. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view. |
Andrew gets me signed up for the C-130 prop transport to Kandahar AFB, then we head over to the public affairs office (PAO) that all embeds need to report to, grab a quick breakfast, and within hours I'm in Kandahar with Andrew heading back to Kuwait to grab a plane for al Anbar. I'll probably run into him again in a few weeks.
Originally I was told my assignment was in Kandahar province, but it isn't. Rather it's in Zabul Province, a Taliban gateway between Pakistan and Kandahar. The name of the base camp is FOF Lagman, just outside Qalat. Here's an overview of Lagman. Zabul is on the Pakistani border and relatively small so all of it is near the mountain passes that the Taliban and Al Qaeda will be coming through. "With its sparse population, insecure border with Pakistan and little central authority, Zabul is a fertile ground for insurgents fighting against the current Afghan government," according to Wikipedia.
Like Kandahar, Zabul is Pashtun, the tribe from which the Taliban derive support. At Kandahar AFB, the PAO says I have two choices to get to FOB Lagman and my assignment with 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Brigade, a unit based out of Germany. I can wait two days and take a 20-minute helicopter ride or go by convoy the next day with Romanian soldiers. I opt for the convoy, only to later be informed it leaves at 0400, which means I have to get up at 0300; a.k.a., way too early for me. What the heck is wrong with these Romanian people anyway? They're yawning as much as I am. Still, at some point on Route 1 to Qalat sun finally pops up and I can finally get to work, snapping photos of the Afghan countryside through a window that I fastidiously cleaned.
|The Humvee turret gunner, manning a 7.62 millimeter RBK machine gun. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view. Click image for larger view.|
The Romanians are a professional bunch, and Romania is one of only five countries conducting combat operations here besides the Americans. Romanian is a romance language, but it's nonetheless alien to a speaker of French or Spanish. After awhile, though, I started picking out Italian words here and there. When I also slowly started to learn that all three men in the Humvee with me spoke some English they told me that Italian is indeed the closest language to their language. Inevitably they took the opportunity to inform me Romania is where the Romans fled when the western empire finally collapsed. I think that's mostly mythological, that most Romans probably stayed right in Italy. Still, Romania is a closer place to flee to than, say, Sweden, and the country's name does lend itself to the story.
Turns out Romanians run the show at Lagman, with the 1-4 and others providing a supporting role. In brief, this place is a defecation-hole. It's worse than where I spent my last two embeds, Camp Corregidor in Ramadi, which itself had a notorious reputation. The one way this place is better is that it doesn't take mortar rounds and hence you don't need to wear body armor within the wire. I'm squeezed like a sardine with two AP reporters in a room meant for one very small person. There is a PX, but it goes out of business today. Corregidor acquired a PX between my two embeds there, plus a market run by locals. There are all of four male showers, two with curtains missing. There are only two computers with Internet connections, a serious problem for me. Part of the place is literally made of mud. Yeah, I knew not to expect the Ritz-Carleton but I'm rather shocked that after five years this place is so crude. But it's a reason that concerns the entire war effort and you'll hear about it in future installments.
|Colorful Afghan tents dot the countryside. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.|
And now a word from our sponsor. That's me. This trip and these blogs to help readers like you remember the forgotten war is paid for entirely out of my own pocket. To name just the three largest expenses, airfare to Kuwait was $1,200. War insurance to cover injuries by hostile action was $775, and there's not even any life insurance in that. A video camera replacement for the one destroyed in an irrigation canal in Ramadi, Iraq was $275. Hitting that PayPal or Amazon.com button at the bottom of this blog will help pay part of that plane ticket, perhaps a day's worth of war insurance, or piece of that video camera.
The number of citizen embeds who because they pay their own way, are beholden to no one, and can report and photograph the truth exactly as they see it has shrunk to a mere handful. As hard as we might try we cannot hope to broadly counter the mis- and disinformation spouted by the MSM. It is with humility, and not hubris, that I say we need many times the citizen embeds we have and yet we can expect the number to keep shrinking. For my part, I should like to remain within that number and keep my reputation for going to not the most comfortable or safest places but the least comfortable and most dangerous. That's where the real news about our soldiers is being made.
|Graves covered with stones and marked by colorful cloths are frequently seen by the road. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.|
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.
April 17, 2007 11:20 AM ·