Driving through to nowhere

A soldier’s view of the Afghanistan war

Army Sgt. Garth Talbott is a Chico native who has served in Iraq and is now serving in Afghanistan. The CN&R’s Aug. 14, 2003, cover story, “Dear Anna,” was based on his letters from Iraq to his sister. This is an edited version of a recent letter from Afghanistan.

I’m beginning to feel the wear. This whole war just seems so pointless. I’ve come here with my eyes wide open, having done this before, and volunteered specifically for route clearance, but there is no sense of accomplishment, and the whole problem is systemic.

We clear routes, and the only clear part of the route is the section between the first truck and the last. Usually. Then the fourth truck back gets blown up. Well, at least that’s one less easily emplaced IED, and at least almost everyone in the truck is fine.

Then you run the same route back the next day and get blown up again. You start asking yourself what progress is being made. You can at least look at the short-term result, which is that usually you’ve saved the people behind you from getting hit, which really is a lot. Then you look at the long-term result, which is nothing.

They start putting pressure plates in, so we put $2.39 million mine rollers on the noses of the trucks. My first one lasted four hours. Then they offset the pressure plate, which costs them nothing except a few more feet of wire. Then we put big digger contraptions on the front of the mine rollers. We throw more and more money at the problems, and the adaptations to beat our money cost next to nothing.

The problem is that we have no real presence. We’re the dudes who drive by once in a while in our big-ass trucks. To the average Afghan, we’re no more than an occasional visitor, whereas the Taliban, whether welcome or not, are there, operating under our noses.

We provide nothing for the locals in the way of security. In fact, with our only occasional presence, we cause the problems. We’re the reason there are bombs in the roads through their villages.

What we need is not more equipment or facilities. We need to take the ridiculous amounts of money we’re spending here and put small units inside of every little town, not huge bases on the outskirts staffed almost entirely by support personnel. American and coalition soldiers need to be more like beat cops who know the town. They need to show the locals, through a constant presence, that they can be trusted.

We need to demonstrate by our actions that we can defend their way of life better than the Taliban by being present, and we can’t do that by just driving through, even if it’s every day.