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A grim milestone in the long-running war in Afghanistan was marked by even grimmer circumstances this weekend: The 2,000th U.S. fatality was recorded Saturday when an Afghan soldier turned his gun on his comrades, killing two Americans and three of his fellow Afghan soldiers.
The 11th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan is next Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily, United pilot Paul Zurkowski describes a dramatic rescue in Afghanistan, in which he saved some 90 coalition troops.
Zurkowski faced the hardest flight of his career on June 28, when a group of 90 coalition ground troops near the Kunar Valley came under fire. Outfitted with the largest plane-mounted cannon in the Air Force, the A-10 is built solely for “close air support,” which requires pilots to fly low and close to the bullets in a bid to knock out threats to U.S. soldiers on the ground.
And that’s just what this mission called for. The coalition soldiers — finishing a classified operation Zurkowski could only describe in the barest detail — had been ambushed while climbing a steep ridge to rendezvous with transport helicopters that would take them home. As Zurkowski and another A-10 pilot rushed to the battlefield, they learned insurgents were firing on the troops from the southwest and a line of peaks to the north.
“They were continually taking what they would call sniper fire,” Zurkowski said.
While Zurkowski and his wing man helped shut down the insurgents to the south, the gunfire pouring in from the north, ahead of the ground troops, kept coming — as did a menacing thunderstorm. Rain and thunderheads rolled in, obscuring details on the ground and creating a ceiling of dark clouds that swallowed mountaintops and forced the planes to fly even lower than normal.
More of the story and dramatic rescue here.
They weren’t innocent. They’re trying to kill us, and you want me to apologize to them? It’s like saying sorry to the enemy.
Remember Abu Ghraib? Eight years before an American soldier shot 16 Afghan civilians, another military misconduct threatened to derail a war effort. Today, the infamous “thumbs-up” soldier told The Daily in a wide-ranging interview that she’s not going to apologize to the detainees she abused.
“Their lives are better. They got the better end of the deal,” [Lynndie] England said. “They weren’t innocent. They’re trying to kill us, and you want me to apologize to them? It’s like saying sorry to the enemy…”
England was front and center in the explosive photographs that depicted physical, sexual and psychological abuse of Iraqi detainees at the prison near Baghdad. The scandal that erupted in 2004 was a disastrous blight on the Iraq war and the George W. Bush White House, leading to calls for then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign…
“All the prisoners that were there were on that tier of high-priority. They were there for a reason. They had killed coalition forces or they were planning to,” England told The Daily over a hamburger at a Mexican restaurant near her home in Fort Ashby. “They had information about where insurgents were hiding.”
Perched in the rugged mountains of eastern Paktika province, Combat Outpost Margah ranks among the most attacked Army bases in all of Afghanistan.
The violent costs of counterinsurgency and simmering U.S.-Pakistan tensions are perhaps nowhere more apparent than inside this dusty compound, where a company of soldiers tends well-used guns.
From the sandbagged walls of their observation point, the men of Margah can see the craggy hills of Pakistan, just 3 miles away. Army records show the outpost has been attacked more than 60 times since August, by an enemy that often treats the dividing line between Pakistan and Afghanistan as if it doesn’t exist.
The Charlie Company Spartans of the 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment represent the spear point of America’s current strategy in a 10-year war, in which soldiers trying to win over ordinary Afghans must hold ground that’s inherently hard to defend.
This two-part series gives a newly detailed account of the three largest battles seen by Charlie Company in the 2011 fighting season, based on after-action records obtained by The Daily and press accounts where noted. They paint a portrait of soldiers asked to execute a complex and daunting task while holding off an enemy determined to kill them for trying.
Photo by Sgt. Charles Crail: Staff Sgt. Aldus Coffee from Brooksville, Fla., directs a Chinook helicopter onto a landing zone in the Charbaran Valley.
This dusty U.S. Army compound is one of the most-attacked bases of the Afghanistan war — soldiers there repelled more than 60 insurgent strikes in 2011. The Daily went inside to recreate 3 intense battles.
In their ceaseless attacks, insurgents have struck Margah with explosives fired from afar, masses of foot soldiers up close — even a truck bomb that would have breached the outpost gate were it not for the sharp reflexes of two infantrymen under fire.
“It’s one of the outposts that gets hit all the time,” Maj. Joe Buccino, a public affairs officer for the 172nd Infantry Brigade, told The Daily. “They are in an absolute slugfest out there.”
“He studied each photo. When he looked up, he had tears in his eyes. ‘Thank you so much,’ he said.
I pointed to one of the pictures with the piece of wheat. I told him I had brought it with me. He couldn’t believe it.
He was leading a group of 10 Marines through a wheat field when there was an explosion. He doesn’t know how far away, maybe a few yards. He was thrown into the air, and landed with a thump in the field, a searing hot pain raging in his neck. He had been hit by a huge piece of shrapnel from a bomb and a major artery was cut. Britt believes the improvised explosive device was hidden and somebody triggered it from a distance, though he can’t say for sure.
‘My only thought was my wife,’ he said recently from his hospital bed in Virginia, where the 22-year-old Marine has been recuperating and rebuilding his life and health.
His speech comes with a great deal of difficulty these days, and sometimes he is hard to understand. During the many surgeries that followed his injury, he had a major stroke and is partially paralyzed on his right side. […]
I knew him only for a few minutes in that helicopter, but I believed we would meet again one day, and I hoped to give him that small, special piece of wheat.” - AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, on being reunited with Cpl. Burness Britt, a Marine she photographed in Afghanistan. She spent several months searching for Britt and finally reunited with him this month.
The Blue Devil Block 2, the biggest spy drone ever made, will hover over Afghanistan by mid-2012, Wired reports. The 370-foot-long craft, now in a North Carolina airplane hangar, will dock 20,000 feet up in the air for five days at a time, monitoring an area of 36 square miles below.
Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are twice as likely to be living on the streets than other Americans, a new study found.
The study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs says that from October 2009 to September 2010, an astounding 144,842 veterans were homeless for at least one night.
“This is unacceptable and we’re committed to fixing the problem,” a Housing and Urban Development spokesman said.
The problem is most rampant in California, which leads the country with 25 percent of the homeless veteran population.
– Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images