Code 48925
PublishDate: Sunday, April 15, 2012 13:21

U.S. and Taliban fight for key Afghan highway

U.S. commanders along that route are faced with tough decisions on how to best deploy

 The Taliban fighter crouched in a muddy field about 100 yards from Highway 1. The mid-afternoon sun melted the last patches of winter’s snow as he waited for an American convoy to pass. Washington Post reported.

Three miles away, Lt. Col. Robert Horney and his soldiers pulled on body armor and climbed into their vehicles. The trucks were rolling when one of Horney’s junior commanders suggested that he delay the convoy until dark, when insurgents rarely attack vehicles with improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. 

“We are the U.S. Army,” Horney thought to himself with some irritation. “We go where we want to go.”

The vehicles rumbled down a rutted dirt road, through a small village and toward a highway culvert where the Taliban had set about 40 pounds of explosives in a yellow plastic jug.

The Taliban fighter pressed a button, and a charge of electricity raced through copper wire. The highway exploded, shooting chunks of rock and dirt hundreds of feet in the air, nearly missing one of the American trucks. It shook and then lurched hard to the left.

“IED, IED, IED,” Horney’s soldiers yelled.

They called the name of the gunner, exposed in the turret. He did not respond, so they yanked on his pants. The gunner’s ears were still ringing from the blast when he ducked into the vehicle to say that he was all right.

The bomb tore a five-foot-deep hole in an already pockmarked highway that the U.S. government paid $230 million to pave and that Horney’s troops were supposed to protect. It showed that even as the U.S. military has pushed Taliban fighters from many strongholds, the enemy retains significant havens in this region only 40 miles from Kabul, the capital. And the near miss shook Horney’s confidence.

Horney, 41, broad-shouldered with brown hair shaved close to the scalp, climbed down from his truck. He suppressed a surge of anger. He was the commander of an 800-soldier battalion and needed to project an air of steadiness and calm. His troops fanned out in a defensive posture.

Horney noticed the hastily buried wire glinting in the sun and followed it until he reached the spot where the insurgent had been waiting. He approached a nearby farmer, gray-bearded and bent from a life in the fields.

Why didn’t he report the bomber to Afghan soldiers a short walk away? Horney asked.

The Taliban were everywhere, including the Afghan army, the farmer replied. “There is no one I can trust,” he insisted.

The two spoke for a few minutes about the man’s crops and his nine children. As Horney shook his hand and turned to leave, the farmer had a question. “Was anyone hurt?”

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