Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rise of the Cave-Dweller

I would like to believe myself to be realtively culturally aware person, but the mind of the Taliban is a bit beyond my comprehension. We are in the midst of the spring offensive here in Afghanistan. This means that it has warmed up enough for the cave-dwellers to crawl back out of their holes, knock the mud off their rusty AKs and continue the Jihad against the infidels who persist in committing great crimes against Islam like providing medical treatment, distributing medical supplies, building schools, evacuating flooded villages and distributing humanitarian aid.

Apparently the way this works is the senior cave-dweller, determined to be senior by the Darwin School of Management, rounds up anyone he can find whose Jihad spirit hasn't been completely suffocated by USAID food and medical supplies, or anyone he can intimidate at the point of his rusty AK. He then waits for a good moonlit night and takes his reluctant holy warriors up some goat-trail in the mountains along the Pakistan border, and digs some ancient Soviet era rockets out of the hole they've been rusting away in since the last time he was chased out of the mountains. These rockets are then skulked into some location where the general concensus is that they have a pretty decent chance of hitting something important or at least noticeable. Then leading from the rear with a cheap radio, the senior cave-dweller has the recruits fire the rockets off some high tech launch system like a pile of rocks or a jerry rigged mass of angle iron.

This is where the wheels fall of the Cave-dwellers plan. Since they've shlepped 5 or 6 of these 200 pound rockets all up and down the Hindu-kush, the senior cave dweller wants to make sure they fire them all. It takes a good 2 minutes to set up each rocket and they can only fire one at a time. It only takes 20 seconds for a US ballistic radar to pick-up the incoming round, determine its point of origin, and feed this data to the artillery battery and attack aviation.

About the time the Taliban Youth are trying to light the fuse on their 2nd or 3rd rocket which typically has the accuracy of a water pistol in a wind storm, a crew of 13 Bravos are ramming 155mm rounds into their howitzers, and APUs are being fired on Apaches and Blackhawks.

Since this has already been on Fox news, I guess I can write about how this worked out for them the other night.

About 1:30 P.M. Dublin Pub time (6:00 P.M. local time) we were going about our daily business when we heard the tell-tale "Pop" and "Whoosh" of an incoming rocket's booster engine kicking in followed by an explosion in the distance. There is a scramble as everyone reaches for their IBA and helmets then heads for the nearest bunker. Within seconds, everyone was is in the heavy concrete structures adjusting their helmets, testing communications, getting comfortable as comfortable as possible and listening for more "Pops". I recorded the initial rocket at 13:34. Craig pulled the crossword puzzle he had saved from a Stars and Stripes out of his notebook and we got to work waiting.

At 13:39, we heard another "Pop" and "Whoosh" followed by an explosion even further distant. Right on schedule, my radio came to life with "Net Call, Net Call. The next rounds you hear will be outgoing."

It was into dusk now and even though we're a few hundred yards away from the artillery battery, out the doorway of the bunker I could see the trees of the olive grove illuminate with a flash and a few seconds later the ground shook from the report of the massive Fox Battery howitzer firing an adjusting round in the general direction of Pakistan (of course when you're in Salerno, 270 degrees of the compass point to Pakistan). Somewhere in the midst of this, we had heard Sabre's Apaches roar over the FOB in the same direction and it occurred to me that I had seen and heard A-10's overhead not 1/2 hour before as well. It was shaping up to be a bad night for the Cave-dwellers.

At 13:43, we heard another "Pop" and as we strained to hear the whoosh, I saw the olive grove light up in a succession of flashes and the ground shook as Fox Battery fired for effect. 24 rounds arced towards a rocket launch point, each capable of wreaking devastation on everything withing a 75 meter radius of where it lands. Craig and I paused our quest to find an 8 letter word for "Formal Meeting" long enough to smile and nod our heads at each other. Having both come up in the artillery, we have exciting memories from the gun line.

A few minutes later, the ground shook again as 24 more rounds were fired. As the TF Sabre pilots tell it, they were on station at the rocket launch point and pulled back as the artillery rained down on the position. The A-10s which had been loitering around looking for a fight took their turn, then the Apaches moved back in to clean up with their 30MM and rockets. Even with their exceptionally flat learning curve, the rocket boys realized they had showed up at a gunfight with a pea-shooter and tried to break contact. Unfortunately for them though, the Apaches gave way to the AC-130 Spectre that had lumbered into this Afghan Little Big Horn. These monsters pack (2) 20mm Vulcan cannons, each capable of spewing 100 rounds per second on a target, a 40mm Bofors cannon that will put out another 100 rounds a minute, and a 105mm howitzer that will ruin even the most stalwart cave-dweller's day.

When the smoke cleared, there were 12 less cave-dwellers to shlep rockets up goat trails. Even though the rockets achieved nothing more than a smoking hole in a field 200 meters from nothing, and starting a brush fire somewhere out in the Afghan countryside, I suppose the Senior Cave-dweller who led from the rear with a radio will probably tout this to anyone who will hear him as the greatest military success since Hannibal crossed the Alps in order to bolster his severly flagging recruiting campaign. Craig and I slept fine though because we figured out that the 8 letter word for "Formal Meeting" is Symposia.

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