25 June 2009

Of leadership, challenges, and being human in a war zone

One of the best profiles I've seen of our young military leadership and the challenges they face in Afghanistan.

A personal touch in Taliban fight
By Greg Jaffe

KONAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — The father arrived at the gate of Capt. Michael Harrison’s base earlier this month cradling the limp body of his 9-year-old daughter.

A few minutes earlier, the little girl had been playing with her cousin by the rutted main road that runs through Harrison’s sector. A Taliban bomb intended for an Afghan army convoy had exploded. It missed the convoy and instead struck the girl, known by the single name of Akhtarbabi.

Her face was blackened from the blast. A piece of charred shrapnel was lodged in her temple. Harrison ordered two of his medics to take the girl’s cousin, who was bloody but still conscious, to the base’s aid station, a plywood shack about the size of a toolshed. Other medics set Akhtarbabi on a cot in a dark concrete bunker just outside the aid station. “She’s dead,” Sgt Ed Welch, the chief medic, whispered to Harrison.

It was up to Harrison, a 27-year-old company commander who oversees US military operations in a sprawling, isolated and violent swath of Afghanistan near the Pakistani border, to figure out how to take advantage of the opening the Taliban had given him. The question consumed and frustrated the Virginia native for most of June.

Harrison faces two enemies in Afghanistan. The most obvious is the Taliban, whose fighters lurk in the mountains along the border. The other is the overwhelming frustration that Afghans feel toward US forces. Eight years of airstrikes, civilian casualties and humiliating house-to-house searches have left the Afghan people deeply suspicious of the US troops who are supposed to be protecting them.

As Harrison’s medics hovered over the girl’s body, her cabdriver father, Jonagha, squatted on the ground outside the aid station. A summer thunderstorm swept over the base. The father placed his face in his hands and prayed as the rain drenched his bloodstained tunic.

Harrison and his interpreter knelt beside Jonagha. The American captain draped an arm around the man’s shoulders, leaned in close and delivered the news that his daughter was dead. The man sat frozen, his face still resting in his palms and the rain pelting his back.

“I am very sorry for your loss,” Harrison said. ...

It's worth your time to read the whole thing. Makes you sad and proud at the same time.

No comments: