Clouds, literal and otherwise, linger in Afghanistan

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The clouds and subsequent rain set in over Jalalabad rather unexpectedly.

While I welcomed it with open arms, the timing could not have been worse. The Afghans had planned an operation that would require the support of Coalition Forces rotary wing assets. An air assault into the Black Mountains was to be the main effort; however, with a low ceiling and the long drizzle starting to settle in, rotary wing assets were dismissed.

The Afghans were left to conduct the ground operation at the base of the mountains on their own, with the support of a couple Kiowas. This was the first case of unfortunate letdowns this week.

We were beginning to plan for what is called a MEDCAP up in Konar Province later in the week -- this would have brought medicine and doctors to help at a refugee camp in that area. The ANA, in conjunction with the medical company from the brigade support battalion, was going to convoy up the Konar River Valley to bring medical aid to some of the people there. Two nights prior to the operation, the BSB pulled the plug on us and we didn't have the medicine we needed to support the operation on our own.

While the rain went away after an entire day of drizzle, the ground remained moist and muddy. The cooler temperatures throughout the January days have not been able to dry the soil. The Tora Bora mountains to the south received an extra layer of snow and the Hindu Kush to the north collected a nice dusting of snow as well, making the snowcapped mountains in all directions reflect the full moon at dusk.

The picturesque scenery of this place quickly faded away Saturday, however, as the events of the weekend unfolded. Saturday morning started off being a decent day. I met with the 2nd Brigade ANA S2, Maj. Rahmdil, and we decided that we had better take a look at the security at the gates leading into the compound, especially in the wake of the attacks in Kabul and the attacks down in the southern provinces.

We found several flaws that needed improvement and we continued our walk back toward the headquarters. Rahmdil wanted to stop by the Afghan barber shop for some reason, so I went ahead and followed. Inside, a kid who was about 14 years old was standing near the guys cutting the hair. Rahmdil talked to the barbers and then the boy for a little bit; when we walked outside, Rahmdil told me that he checks on the kid ever once in a while.

He told me the boy was the lone worker for his family. His father was disabled and the boy was left to try to feed and take care of a family of eight. I asked how much the boy made by working for the barbers. Rahmdil replied with 28 Afghanis per day, which at the current exchange rate, equates to a little over 50 cents per day.

I began to try to imagine what 50 cents per day could provide for a family of eight and realized that trying to imagine such a thing was practically impossible. The truth is, I don't know how this family is able to get what they need to survive in such a harsh country or what they eat from day to day to get the nutrients they need. I do know one thing, however, and that is poverty is real in this country and my heart goes out to these people.

At midday yesterday, we learned that one of our bases up in the Pesh River Valley was attacked with two rounds of indirect fire. While typically these indirect fire attacks are ineffective, this one produced devastating results.

We initially heard that the Kandak commander (a Kandak is the Afghan equivalent of a U.S. battalion) was injured in the attack; half an hour later, we received confirmation that he died. The U.S. flew the body down here to a nearby landing zone. Another bird came a half-hour later to fly him to Kabul. I went down to the LZ to make sure there were no issues in the air movement.

It was a somber experience to see the Afghans carry the commander onto the second bird. The crowd of soldiers followed the guys carrying the stretcher in a kind of lamenting way. The crew chief of the Blackhawk that had landed stood at attention while they loaded him on. On the drive back to our headquarters, the interpreter I had with me said, "Of all the Kandak commanders in 2nd Brigade, he was the best one."

Life moves on here in Jalalabad and operations continue even when tragedy strikes. I have come to realize that this war is more than just a war between coalition forces and the "douchemen" (Dari for enemy); it is a war against time, economics, corruption, poverty, illiteracy and morality.

Often, the fronts of the war seem to be amongst ourselves, aimed at trying to figure this whole thing out. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a single solution that would solve all of the problems here. The intricacies of the issues are immense; anybody that has ever studied chaos theory knows that any little input into the system has dramatic effects on the outcome.

I believe that this is certainly the case here. Sometimes at night I find myself worrying about all the problems that I cannot even dream of effecting in my current capacity; but, I know that the hands of God are in this thing and that whatever the outcome is will be in accordance with His will. As always, I appreciate all of the prayers and all of the support from everyone back in the states. Take care and God Bless!

First Lt. Andrew Plucker is deployed to Afghanistan. He is not an Army spokesman, and his updates from the field are written from his personal perspective as a soldier.

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