PANJWAI, Afghanistan — Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan early on Sunday. ...
You can be angry about this, or heartsick, or both. Most of us—and I emphatically include myself in that "us"—don't give a thought to what's happening over in Afghanistan, either to the Afghans or to the people we've sent to carry out a mission we no longer understand (and without understanding, it's beyond me how there can be any real support). It's true that a report of violence will interrupt the general silence over this war and momentarily attract some attention ("Burn any Korans lately? And how did that go for you?").
We've had a copy of a literary magazine--The Sun-- sitting amid the pile of papers on our dining room table the last couple of weeks. A friend gave it to us because she has a poem in the issue. By coincidence, I picked up The Sun after reading the story above. Leafing through it from back to front, I came across a page that featured portraits of two Marines in Afghanistan. There were two pictures of each Marine: on the left, a frame showing them in full combat gear; on the right, a frame of them with no gear.
There were six pages of portraits, twelve Marines, members of a platoon in the middle of a seven-month tour of duty in Helmand Province last year. A short essay by the journalist who took the pictures, Elliott D. Woods, summarized what had happened to the platoon during its first few months in the country:
"Four months into their seven-month tour, the mostly nineteen- and twenty-year-old marines at Patrol Base Fires in Sangin, Afghanistan, had seen enough violence to permanently line their boyish faces. Two of their platoon's men had been killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), one of them blown literally in two. A half dozen had gone home without their legs, and others had suffered severe concussions or taken fragments of flying metal on their exposed faces and through the gaps n their Kevlar armor. By the time I arrived to photograph them in July 2011, First Platoon's casualty rate was more than 50 percent."
Woods also has this to say about the setting of the Marines' mission: "The district is so remote, so cut off from the Afghan government, that none of the farmers with whom I spoke knew the name of their country's president. They could not name Helmand's provincial governor either, or even their district council leader. They did not know what country the marines in their fields had come from, let alone why they were there. They did know that they were tired of living in a war zone. They were afraid of everyone, and that fear had driven hundreds of Sangin families to Kabul, where they were waiting out the war in filthy encampments on the city's western outskirts."
One other thing about Sangin: This is one of the places the British fought during their part of the Post-9/11 War. See the video below.