Dispatch: Afghanistan – Eyes in the Sky

BY Larisa Epatko  August 10, 2010 at 4:02 PM EST

GlobalPost has sent reporters to Afghanistan to cover the day-to-day developments of the war in places such as the southern city of Kandahar, where the U.S. military is working to curb the Taliban’s influence. We’re tracking their progress through the summer in a weekly blog post.

One of the tools in the U.S. military’s counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan is a remote-controlled unmanned aircraft to conduct surveillance.

“It’s like a game sometimes, a video game,” says one of the controllers, a soldier based at a combat outpost in the Zhari district in western Afghanistan. The aircraft has GPS and can feed live video back to base.

>”Such automation has become crucial to the U.S.-led coalition’s counterinsurgency strategy, which seeks to reduce the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in an ongoing effort to not only defeat the Taliban militarily, but also to win the hearts and minds — and support — of average Afghans,” writes Kevin Sites.

In a different blog post, Ben Brody reports on how the U.S. military’s plan to attend a weekly provincial government meeting in the eastern city of Shinkay was stymied by a swollen river:

“The U.S. soldiers were being escorted by Qalat’s 2nd Brigade, 205th Afghan Army Corps, and were supposed to meet up with Shinkay’s 1st Brigade — but all the two units could do was radio each other from opposite banks of the river. A small crowd of local travelers sat by the banks on both sides, as if they were waiting for the waters to recede.”

Brody also documents how U.S. soldiers’ sometimes while away the time in Afghanistan — by sharpening their hand-to-hand combat skills:

“The bouts materialize out of thin air — one moment 10 soldiers are sitting around smoking and joking until, in an instant, they’re slamming each other into the ground trying to choke each other,” he writes.

Sites captures in photos the return of soldiers to Forward Operating Base Howz-E-Madad after their convoy transporting supplies for U.S. and Afghan Army forces comes under Taliban attack on Highway 1:

“When an Afghan National Army Unit responds, they come under heavy fire. Mortar rounds drop within a hundred feet of their position. They split their team — one staying to the west, the other moving up the Highway east. They return fire of their own with light machine guns and rounds of rocket-propelled grenades. But when one of their pickup trucks stalls out in the middle of the line of fire, the men abandon it and take cover on the berm to the north side of the road, opposite the Taliban,” he reports.

Read more of GlobalPost’s reports on its “Dispatches: Afghanistan” blog.