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More on FOB Mizan

By Michael Fumento

Looking inside this compound is like looking at stop action photography -- you know, like when they make the flower appear to bloom right before your eyes. In the few days I've been here I've seen both sides of the "safe house" (the soldiers' quarters) reinforced extending the roof on both sides and building two new walls of sandbags. The dining facility (DFAC) has been sandbagged about half way up but only because they keep running out of filled bags.

An Apache gunship flies above FOB Mizan's "sandbag palace."Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
The Internet connection, which because of a lightning strike had been knocked out for a month, has been restored. The wiring has been buried to keep it from being pulled out or cut. A TV was installed just today -- though curiously it only seems to receive sports channels. (I did watch an episode of "The Simpsons," which was a nice reminder of home and civilization.) An open booth was installed inside the DFAC so a telephone could be set up. I used it to call home for the first time in over a week. (By comparison, on my last Iraq visit I wasn't able to call my wife at all.) There were one or two tables in the DFAC when I arrived; now it's filled with enough freshly-built tables to accommodate everyone, although the tiny cloth-and-metal fold-up chairs were obviously built for munchkin butts.

I jokingly told the commander that he must be an engineer. Turns out he is. But like me, he was trained mostly in blowing things up and is in fact a graduate of the sapper school at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. That's where I had my basic and advanced training. Yet Stofan insisted the credit for most of the building goes to his platoon sergeant and "A lot of the structures have been built by the carpenters, guys who've had odd jobs and such. There's no real architect; they wing it."

Firing the M-120 120 mm mortar at night. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
It's good ol' American ingenuity -- combined with good ol' Romanian ingenuity provided by the five of them at the FOB, who are whizzes at sandbagging. "I wish you could see pictures of the FOB from before," Stofan said, "but the improvements have been unbelievable. I think they filled over 25,000 sandbags." Indeed, I overheard one soldier on the phone say they call the place "The Sandbag Palace."

Stofan, an Officer Candidate School graduate, is rather on the old side for a 1st Lt. at 28. But he only joined the Army in March of 2005. The reason? "I got tired of sitting on the sidelines."
Says the Miami Springs, Florida native whose wife is back in Germany, "Pretty much the reason I joined was to go to war. I was happy to deploy to Afghanistan."

B Co., 1-4 Infantry arrived at FOB Mizan from its base in Hohenfels, Germany (near Nuremburg) on January 15, inheriting the site from the 10th Mountain Division, which in turn took over from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. As discussed in an earlier blog the Mizan district, with a population of about 25,000, is a way station for enemy fighters heading for Helmund and Kandahar Provinces. FOB Mizan was plopped down here not to keep the Taliban entirely out, which is utterly beyond its ability, but to inhibit the movement of the Taliban and improve security in Mizan district.

Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
FOB Mizan's very presence inhibits the Taliban within a 7-10 kilometer range from the FOB. The camp's M-120 120 millimeter mortar, with a maximum range of 7.2 kilometers, which from what I saw can hit the Taliban anywhere on their side of the mountain range that surrounds the camp, has got to be a bit scary to the bad guys as well. I watched a nighttime drill in which within about five minutes they had the huge tube was blasting away. It was so quick I didn't have time to put in my earplugs before I had to have my camera snapping away. Ouch.

But patrols are the main tool for keeping the Taliban on the run. "With the random patrols their movement is completely inhibited because they never know when we’ll be there," says Stofan, "and they do not want to fight us. They don't have the numbers, they don't have the discipline and skill (much of their training is religious), and they don't have the weapons. "Their most feared weapon is the RPG," says Stofan. "They may also have 82 millimeter mortars but no base plates so they can't really aim them."

Unfortunately, patrols are not the answer to restoring security in the villages. "You have to be there on a permanent basis," says Stofan, and given current resources in manpower that's a pipe dream for now.

"You could take a picture of one of these villages and it would look like something out of a nativity scene." Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
"They're worried about the Taliban because they strong-arm people for shelter or food and then move on to next town," he continues. "When they pass through in large numbers they leave behind nuisance guys to close schools and clinics by kidnapping teachers and doctors and scaring off road crews.

"The last school in the Mizan district closed two years ago," he says, "yet about 50-60 percent of population is under 14 years old. There's a rapidly growing younger generation not getting educated. There is some Koran teaching going on and I asked the instructor if he'd expand teachings to grammar and math if we provided the books. He said he would, but the process of getting these things is long."

Except, perhaps, for additions to the FOB, everything moves slowly out here and the people are quite used to it. Sometimes "slowly" is not at all -- or at least not in 2,000 years. "You could take a picture of one of these villages and it would look like something out of a nativity scene," says Stofan. I have, and it does.

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 30, 2007 04:08 PM  ·  Afghanistan ~ Military