Wednesday, February 25, 2009


We get a new group of soldiers out here every once in awhile, which has its pluses and minuses. Sometimes the new guys aren’t very familiar with the area so we have to teach them a lot about our area of operations, but on the other hand new people often provide a new way of looking at things so we often get some new ideas on how to run things around here. And their ignorance often means we can get them to do things that other more experienced groups won’t be as willing to do because they are so set in their ways, meaning we can often get things done more along the lines of how we’d like them done.

I am a big believer in incentives, and not just in this context. How I deal with the new guys often depends on how much they’re willing to contribute to their own well-being. The more I see the Afghans work, the more willing I am to help them. The latest crop of soldiers came into the base and refused to put their gear in their rooms until they cleaned them…something I can’t blame them for because the rooms were certainly filthy. I took this as a good sign, and thus the purse strings were loosened from the outset with this group and their commander. The commander wants his soldiers to exercise so they’re not sitting around smoking cigarettes and doing nothing during the day…and so we built them a pull-up bar and are going to try to get some weights out here. The Afghans generally ask me for all sorts of things ranging from things they need, like money for food when we occasionally run out, to things they don’t need, like televisions. If it’s a non-essential item, I don’t provide it. If it’s essential, I provide it, but usually only after making them try to use their own ingenuity (and supply system) to solve the problem. Since this platoon has demonstrated itself to be well-disciplined I do things for them I never did for our prior units.

On the subject of incentives…the Army out here has created a bit of an adverse incentive system. Their policy is: if shooting originates from an individual’s house and we thus destroy it in self defense with bombs, RPGs or whatever, then we will pay for the house as long as the Army commander deems the use of that particular house as a firing position to be uncommon. If, however, the house is routinely used as place from which to shoot at us, then no recompense will be forthcoming. Now I understand that winning over the population is the goal in counter-insurgency, but winning the “hearts and minds” of the populace doesn’t mean you always have to be mister nice guy – we just need to persuade them supporting us is in their best interests and that resisting us is pointless. With the policy we currently have in place, we not only don’t provide the local people with any incentive to keep the insurgents out of their homes (something that would ‘enhance’ the security of our patrols), but we also psychologically influence the populace to see us as the bad guys every time one of these events occurs. It is true that maybe the owner of the home was blameless in that he was out of town or couldn’t keep the bad guys out of his home for fear for his life, and the situation is unfortunate for him, but looking at the greater picture as long as we make our position clear that any house used as a firing position is subject to destruction should the need arise during a gunfight, then the responsibility for the damages really goes to the guys that use those homes as ambush positions. Of course, we should always take care to minimize collateral damage and protect non-combatants, and therefore we should avoid taking down a house unless absolutely necessary and we’re reasonably sure the bad guys are still inside.

Temperance in the use of such destructive ordnance combined with an inflexible policy toward recompense, might influence the local people to see the insurgents for what they are – the cause of the trouble around here, which would be a monumental step forward. Our irresolution, leaving payment for damages up to a judgment call on the part of one man, influences the people to blame us for the damage to their home. If a person believes that a faint hope exists that they may get recompense for damage to their home, then of course they are going to come to us to ask for money. And by coming to us for damages, psychologically the owner of the home now sees us as the cause of his difficulties. Whether we pay or don’t pay, we’re now the bad guy that destroyed his home. If our policy is simply: if a home used as an ambush position is destroyed no payment for damages will be forthcoming, then no ambiguity exists and the owner can blame the insurgents for acting in a way that would bring our predictable response, unfortunate though it is for the owner himself.

In the end, the Army’s policy is merely an extension of 21st century American society’s attempts to separate actions from the consequences that naturally flow from them. In so doing, we often take the easy way out today in the name of being nice and understanding, at the expense of the larger issues and the future, and of course creating adverse incentives which serve to encourage the irresponsible behavior we should be doing everything possible to prevent.

Monday, February 23, 2009


For our patrol one day, we decided to move up the hillside toward Restrepo and then set up a kind of observation post on a rocky little plateau to the southeast of Restrepo...more or less in the center of a triangle between three of our positions: Restrepo, OP Dallas, and Vimoto.  From our position there, we'd have visibility down into the village of Loy Kalay (a place we rarely if ever go).  Given the terrain, it can be challenging to visualize what you will and will not have visibility of until you actually get to a position, despite the maps.  So I decided we would go up there and get a first-hand look at what we could see from there.  Along the way to and from that outcrop we would sweep the area for possible hidden weapons, as shooters had set up in that vicinity to shoot down a helicopter in January.

Setting up on an exposed hilltop in broad daylight would undoubtedly draw fire, but then, this was how we did business out there: locate the enemy by letting him shoot at us.  (I use the word "at" in the previous sentence to emphasize the fact that the enemy shot in our direction...but did not often actually shoot us...thankfully, shooters in the Korengal were not terribly accurate...on most occasions.)

Of course, this is a terribly reactive tactic...but identifying the enemy in counter-insurgency can be hard, to say the least.  At any rate, once we got up to our spot, we found the area to be sparsely vegetated, like most of the land at that elevation (about 5000 feet above sea level), though there were a number of hasty fighting positions available that had been constructed out of large rocks.  We quickly dispersed our roughly 12-man patrol (8 ANA, 2 Marine ETTs, an interpreter, and a cultural anthropologist who was along for the retrospect it made little sense to bring him on the mission as we had no intention of talking to anyone...but then he didn't often let us leave him behind, and would later do all academics proud by popping off a few rounds with his M16). 

I quickly directed the ANA to disperse around the area, oriented where we were most likely to take fire, that is from the south and potentially from across the valley to the east, though taking fire from the east would involve a long and likely errant shot.  We ended up arranged along about a 50 meter long stretch of the hillside, more or less in a line oriented to the south/southwest.  We had a little knoll in the middle of our position, which would make communication within the patrol itself a bit more difficult.  Our setup finished, I settled in to my own little "fighting position", which was certainly not the best one...but it was the only one available after the others had taken their places.  It was formed of few low football-size rocks strewn about in the form of a half-moon.  A tree of about a one-foot diameter was directly in front of my fighting position, which obscured my field a view a bit.  I would shortly become very grateful for the presence of that tree.

As always, while we were up there we were constantly receiving receiving LLVI (low-level voice intercept) feeds.  Basically, the LLVI guys (a stationary unit back the KOP, though mobile capability does exist) intercept radio communications between the bad guys.  Since the bad guys use handheld radios (we called them all ICOMs...a popular brand), we are able to not only hear what the enemy is saying (which often has limited utility due to our interpreters' inability to understand the Korengali language), but more importantly, get an azimuth (or direction) from where the signal was coming from.  Extrapolating from signal strength, the LLVI guys could also give a rough distance on how far away the signal was emanating from.  Distance plus direction equals location.  Not an exact science, but helpful.  I went so far as to draw angle lines on my map I carried with me allows, which most importantly had a list of the many indirect fire targets.  So if I heard from the KOP that the signal was coming from a 190-degree azimuth I would basically trace that line from the KOP down my map until the came to an area that looked like where the enemy might be.  I would then make note of the pre-planned indirect fire targets we had in that area.  Once the shooting started, I would likely call in mortars on that target or a nearby one, as a kind of opening salvo. 

After a short while it became apparent the bad guys knew we were there...and thanks to the LLVI teams updates over the radio, I had an idea of where they were.  Figuring I would kill two birds with one stone, I decided to relay that information to the ANA, which would also allow me to check to see if the ANA had their heads in the game.  After making the rounds and relaying the information, I was on my way back to my position when a shot rang out.  Though I didn't hear that round buzz overhead or feel that it was close to me, I nevertheless took the sound of that shot quite personally, as it seemed they had waited until I was walking around in the open to start the shooting.  I quickly scurried back to my position and began trying to get an idea of where the now steady fire was coming from.

It didn't take long to realize I was completely pinned down as rounds began peppering the tree in front of me and ricocheting off the rocks around me.  I quickly got on the radio and called in a mortar strike on a pre-planned target in the vicinity of where I guessed the shooting was coming from.  What I remember about that radio call was not so much where the round went or why I called for it in that spot, but rather the fact that my voice cracked as I called it in - a bit embarrassing, and can indeed be frightening to be on the receiving end of accurate machine gun fire; however, it is a testament to our training that despite the density of fire coming my way, I was able to make the radio call.  I didn't freeze up or panic, and did not feel least not on the conscious level.  Of course, there is certainly there is nothing heroic about what little I did in response by making a radio call, it just a reaction...but it was reassuring to know that when you get into a tight spot where you're inches from death you can still think and perform.

In any case, not being able in those moments to get eyes on the shooters (tough to get eyes on much of anything when your more or less hiding behind a rock pile), I quickly deferred the adjustments of that initial mortar rounds to the other marine on the patrol with me, who had smartly taken the best fighting position available and was well placed to control fires and return fire with his own weapons.  He was able to adjust the rounds close enough to get the shooting to stop and then actually saw the shooters as they ran down the hillside away from us after taking their shots, though neither he nor our Afghans were able to shoot them.  It was a nice display or working together, though I did not relish my role as the bait that drew all the fire.

In any case, that's what friends are for, and that particular incident also nicely demonstrates the advantage we have on the enemy.  They unfortunately nearly always have the initiative and the element of surprise, but we have much more firepower.  If they want to concentrate fire on one person and pin him down, that's all good as we have 10 other guys on patrol and multiple other positions around the valley, as well as indirect fire support that can respond.  In that case they certainly came closer to getting us (me) than we did them, but more often than not we will come out on top in these little engagements. 

We hung out in our spot for a bit longer (don't want the enemy to think they succeeded in determining our course of action...though of course they do in many ways) before heading home.

23 Dec 2011

I was reminded of this incident when I was recently robbed at gunpoint by two men.  After they removed my bag from my person, I decided to fight the one with the gun and had nearly succeeded in disarming him when a third attacker jumped out of a car that had pulled up and began sighting in on me with another pistol.  And that point, I ceased resisting, and they thankfully didn't shoot me afterwards.  I had the awareness to remember the plate number and immediately called the police.  The incidents were similar in my mind in that while my execution in both cases was much less than perfect (failed to disarm my opponent in a quick fashion during the robbery, and failed to effectively plan and anticipate the enemy on the patrol), I did at least show courage and the ability to operate under stress in both cases.  

In neither instance do I recall being scared at that moment...the effects in both cases were more afterwards.  After the incident in the Korengal, I no longer viewed what we were doing out there as a kind of high-risk game.  The "risk" was just too close to home after that to really enjoy "the game" anymore.  I had been in plenty of firefights prior to that, often in exposed positions while on patrol, but none of those incidents affected me the same way.  The incident up on the rock that day changed my attitude...I would continue to operate the same way as before, but from that point onwards I fully appreciated the risks and the "fun" was gone.  Thereafter, I went about my daily business out of a sense of duty rather than a sense of adventure.  

As for the robbery, it (re)awakened me to the risks I face living in a 3rd-world country.  Sometimes one has to be reminded of past lessons and relearn the same things.  In 3rd-world countries there is simply less margin for error.  It's less forgiving.  If you get in a fight with your wife, and decide to walk a few blocks home from the office with what is obviously a laptop bag...well, someone will likely take notice and make efforts to dispossess you, whether you are in a nice part of town or not.  Call it metaphysics or simply losing situational awareness, but thinking about being angry with another person and not paying attention to what is going on is always a bad idea in some places, whether it's war or a poor South American country. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bad neighborhoods

“Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.” - General William Tecumseh Sherman

There’s something I find amusing in such a blunt and forthright opinion using such powerful and evocative language. But taking his quote as truth, the future for us here in Afghanistan is anything but amusing.

I’ll elaborate. I recently have been moved to a different forward operating base, the purpose being for me to train an Afghan officer holding a specific billet corresponding to my military occupational specialty. It’s a temporary move, and I’ll soon be moved back to where I came from. Being at a very isolated place for the duration of my deployment until now has left my knowledge base concentrated in a very narrow, specific region. My arrival here has given me the chance to find out the changes, patterns, and operations being conducted in this province as a whole. And it’s been educational.

I was recently eating by myself at the chow hall when the Army battalion commander sat down across from me for a chat. He must have seen my Marine Corps uniform, and personally knowing the few marines that inhabit this place, decided he’d get to know the new guy. When the battalion commander found out which little base I’d come from, he stated to me something along the lines of how he hates it that we’re even out in that region, we shouldn’t be there, we should just leave it alone, and get out of there. I’ll mention that the area I normally reside in is known for it’s less than cordial welcome of outsiders, to include their own national army. So as we walked out of the chow hall together, the battalion commander noticed I didn’t have a flashlight and made a comment (seriously I believe) about having a flashlight after dark and how safety comes first. Let’s just say I found that statement and his motherly concern for my welfare to be at odds with what I would expect to hear from an infantry battalion commander in a combat zone.

In talks with another officer from this battalion I learned that we’re closing a particular couple of small bases because “They couldn’t get anything done out there. They were just getting shot at all the time.” I guess all that shooting out there must have gotten in the way of those infantrymen’s collateral duties and so they were moved somewhere more peaceful. In theory, closing bases can be a good idea if you don’t have enough troops to staff them properly so that you can still patrol aggressively and not be tied to the base for want of troops. But I know from experience that once these guys pull out of those regions, they won’t ever patrol there again, rationalizing it by saying to themselves, “We can’t go there enough to make a difference anyway, so why go at all?” I’ve been guilty of that thought process myself actually, albeit in a context that palatably balanced by sense of duty with my sense of self-preservation.

I’m certainly not privy to the details of the planning sessions that are conducted by the brass, but from the point of view of the guy on the ground, it’s clear that the guys calling the shots don’t want to fight the enemy is certain places, namely, the hinterlands. They’d rather just leave him alone, thinking he’ll leave us alone, and instead we’ll all focus on the population centers. And there may be a little bit of truth to the idea that the insurgents will leave us alone if we just don’t go to where they live. I know that some of the people that fight against us out at my little base are just local people that don’t like government in general and especially hate foreign infidels. But I also know that those local people are only some of the fighters, not most. And I also know that you can keep yourself safe for awhile by avoiding a bad neighborhood, but if you ignore it long enough eventually that bad neighborhood will come to visit you. That was the lesson for all Americans on 9/11 and the reason we’re here in the first place.

Anyway, I could go on with the theme and discuss required troop numbers on patrols - the theory being safety in numbers, which obviously trumps the surprise, speed, and stealth advantages of smaller units (sarcasm most definitely intended) - and discuss how this has hamstrung us in the name of safety and caution, but I’ll save those observations for a less public forum.

I understand that General Sherman wasn’t faced with an insurgency. We can’t win this war by burning the province, thereby destroying the insurgents’ supply base and will to fight. Though the tactics we must use need be different from those in the Civil War, I think what we really lack now is leadership with the Shermanesque resolve to put an end to this fight, facing the ugly realities by actively engaging the enemy and destroying him wherever he is, instead of running from him and giving him sanctuaries (Don’t they already have enough of those in Pakistan?) just to temporarily make ourselves safer and more comfortable. The best case result for this strategy is a lengthening of our military’s stay here. Worst case…

The picture is of a helo on approach to Restrepo, before a Chinook got shot down when daytime helo missions were still conducted.

Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain

That phrase was one of my lasting takeaways from Bridgeport, California where we attended the Mountain Warfare Training Center (MWTC) before we came out here. Unfortunately, we only spent a week at MWTC, which was time enough to feel the pain, but not enough time to really get acclimatized to the altitude and thus feel less of it. The powers that be thought it’d be better to spend three weeks in the desert at 29 Palms rather than spend more time in the mountains, but I’ll save the discussion of the deficiencies in our, as a whole, well designed training programs/methods for another time and a more qualified observer…though if we’d maintained for a month the same ops-tempo that we performed for six days at MWTC we probably all would have been broken. Since we only had a week to do the training at MWTC, we did the required three days of class work back in Hawaii before we left. The program is designed for you to receive the classes in Bridgeport after you arrive. This theoretically gives you a few days to get acclimatized to the altitude since base camp is at 6000 feet. No such luck for us however – during our first night, some ten hours after our arrival, we were helo’d up to 9000 feet of elevation to begin the fieldwork, and this after spending the previous night on a bus from Reno after having just flown in from Hawaii. This order of events would have consequences for all of us, especially those not in good hiking condition. I’ve personally been at much higher altitudes hiking in South America, but I’d never carried so much weight at altitude over the distances we were to cover.

An appropriate title for our six day course up on the mountains at MWTC would have been “An introduction to the hardships associated with conducting military operations in mountainous terrain”. Basically, the training at MWTC involved a lot of walking up and down mountains with plenty of weight on your back. Lots of other training was conducted, but the real lessons were an appreciation for the difficulties in moving around in the mountains and the importance of route selection. During my day as the navigator I drew the ire of my comrades for choosing to stay in the treeline, following the draws up and down, rather than just staying near the ridgelines and maintaining altitude – my selection being a much tougher route physically, though with the advantage of stealth in that case since those particular ridgelines were sparsely forested. My lesson learned from that day was that one need not confine his options to the uncovered ridgeline or concealed draws simply because they offer a reasonably direct path to the objective. You’ll seldom find a perfect alternative, but in reality a multitude of possibilities exist…you just have to be willing to go to points C, D, E, and beyond if necessary on your way from A to B. In other words, the best option available is often a concealed, high altitude approach, staying near the top of the ridgeline, not losing or gaining any more elevation than necessary along the way, even if doing so requires covering significantly more lateral distance and/or backtracking.

During the first three days roughly a third of all participants had to be removed from the training area back to base camp for various ailments including torn knee ligaments, sprained ankles, altitude sickness/exhaustion, and hypothermia. We were warned ahead of time, but there’s nothing like experience to hammer home the lesson that, when put together, all those extra items you thought you needed will increase your pain exponentially. Thankfully, after the first couple days we were allowed to send back non-essential gear, lightening our load to 60 or 70 pounds. That event, coupled with the reduced size of our entourage due to attrition and the slave-driving of our leader, allowed us to cover 15 km and gain a net of 3000 feet in elevation in only 5.5 hours (essentially a road march) on one particularly miserable afternoon, which was apparently really good work according to the instructor, who I might add never looked the least bit winded during the entire six days. An amusing, if not pathetically annoying, point during that movement came when a Sergeant Major rolled by us on his four-wheeler and got on someone’s case for not having shaved that morning. Incidentally, MWTC was also where I learned the word “cocoon” can be used as a verb, as in, “Damn it’s cold! I’m going to cocoon myself in this sleeping bag.”

Our brief time at MWTC was a great introduction to the challenges we face here in Afghanistan. We’ve learned to lighten our loads, but sadly one can only get rid of so much. Most of the time we don’t go out for a very long time, so you’d think we really wouldn’t need much, but despite the relatively short length of our outings the necessary gear is extensive and fairly heavy. A recent inventory of my gear after a patrol revealed:

1 helmet

1 sunglasses

1 plate carrier (lighter version of the flak vest) with sapi chest and back plates

6 magazines (loaded)

2 frag grenades

1 smoke grenade

1 handheld GPS

1 handheld radio with mic

1 night optics (time of day dependent)

1 utility kit with map, pencil (won’t freeze), zip-ties, energy bar, chemlites, and extra AA batteries

1 pocket target map

1 knife

1 20 oz bottle of water

1 compass

1 flashlight

1 pocket-sized Pashto language handbook

1 notebook with 2 pens

1 lighter

1 watch cap (You never know when you might stop somewhere for awhile and need to stay warm; the watch cap packs the most warmth for the size burden.)

1 wristwatch and

1 personal first aid kit with 2 tourniquets, quickclot, 1 needle kit, med tape, compressed gauze, and pressure bandages

All of this in addition to 1 rifle (loaded) and whatever clothing (I’m loath to use the word “uniform” to describe my attire given the mixture of garments I typically wear.) I’m dressed in on that day. The gear I take is pretty much the minimum, and I’m probably required to have more items like a pistol and personal locator beacon, but thankfully we’re isolated enough out here that a lot of the ridiculousness goes away and common sense takes over; a pistol is not going to do a lot of good given the threats we face. A lot of guys carry more magazines and those that carry an M203 grenade launcher (most everyone but me) have a few extra pounds on their rifle in addition to the grenades themselves, which weigh nearly a pound apiece and are normally carried in bandoliers of 15. In the summer we will surely need to carry more than 20 oz of water.

I was able to get on a scale today with the gear listed above and it came to 55 pounds. If I ditched the body armor and hand grenades I could lose 25 pounds…but that’s not a decision I’m going to make. The US Army guys we work with wear a vest that is probably five to ten pounds heavier than our plate carriers. I don’t know how they do it, but then they don’t get up into the mountains as often as they should either. Our camp here is at 5000 feet and we rarely ascend or descend more than 1000 feet from that, but nevertheless it’s tough since many of the slopes are at a 30 degree angle or more. It’s not that we can’t do it, it’s just that we can’t do it fast, and there are times out here when it would be nice to be able to move quickly up a hill. I’m to the point now where although I might not move very swiftly up the mountain, I can at least keep plodding along without feeling like I’m going to suffocate, which was how I often felt in the beginning. One magical day about a month in I realized I wasn’t exhausted after reaching a point on a mountain where I’d always been worn out before, and feeling so good I decided to run up the mountain…for about 50 meters before reality set in and my heartbeat threatened to blast out my eardrums. Hopefully, it will keep getting easier, but it certainly won’t ever be painless, and the weight of our gear will always be a hindrance to rapid movement.

As Marines we like to think of ourselves as the successors to the mighty Roman legions that conquered the known world so long ago. Historians have debated and will always debate the many reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. It seems I remember reading somewhere (probably in Gibbon’s work whose title uses those same words) that among the many reasons for the Empire’s fall was the fact that the legionnaires became unable and/or unwilling to carry the gear and armor required of a Roman soldier. We’re certainly not at the point where we can’t or won’t carry our gear effectively, and you’d like to think that nutrition and military technology will improve to, in theory, make things easier for us, but then in 2000 years the soldier’s weight load probably hasn’t really changed that much; today’s technology just makes us more lethal and survivable than our predecessors, but only relative to those same forebears because our increased lethality and survivability is essentially negated by our opponents having much the same technology, even if that technology is only a 1950’s vintage Russian made assault rifle or light machine gun. At any rate, this entry wasn’t intended to be a dissertation on the soldier’s load nor was it intended to examine military technological innovation and its effects or lack thereof on the infantryman, so I’ll close with the simple observation that the soldier’s load does and will continue to emplace limits on our operational flexibility, especially in this environment.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

No power encounter

We went about 10 days without power here at Firebase Vimoto recently. This is what happens when you put "fuel" that is actually about 50% water into a generator. The generator, not unsurprisingly, reacted poorly to such a mixture. Now, our fuel comes to us in 500-gallon rubber blivets (How we manage to get these monsters manipulated into position is another story, but let's just say it's done very carefully...); we have no ability here at Vimoto to put liquid of any kind into these blivets. We can only take it out. So that pretty much rules out the ANA stealing our fuel and replacing it with water. Thus, it must have come to us this way, which leads me to believe the US Army somehow took a blivet with residual water in it and refilled it with fuel. You'd be surprised how similar the water blivets and fuel blivets look, and I have no doubt they've been switched from time to time. Thankfully, we do not drink the water from these things, though the ANA have been known to.

Having no power is not so bad though. It's cold at night but not bitterly so. We manage to keep the radios running by trading out the radio batteries with our friends from the base down the road, or by using our supply of disposable batteries. Given that we've no way to charge our main entertainment sources, i.e. our computers, the power outage has led to the four of us that speak English here (three Marines and our interpreter) to spend much more time talking to each other and with our ANA leadership. And we still manage to get a hot meal by using our 55-gallon drum "grill" fueled by the wood we manage to scavenge from around the base. All that bad fuel is handy for keeping a fire going at least.

I should mention that our "base" is made of houses that were once part of the village. US forces as some point in the not-too-distant past simply took the uppermost homes in the village (the entire village being constructed terrace-style on the side of a mountain), surrounded them with some hesco barriers and concertina wire, and called it a base. The US Army built the base in its current form, and eventually turned it over to the ANA, which works better since the base is so close to the local inhabitants. The other bases in the area have much more standoff from the local populace.

Given how dark it is with no power inside the mud-brick house we live in, we tend to mill about outside during the day a bit more than we used to. On one such occasion, I heard the noise of a child from below. I peaked up and around the edge of our barriers and noticed a boy and his young mother just down below. She was busy moving stacks of twigs and branches into her residence through a four-foot high door as the child watched interestedly. I had known that we had villagers living essentially below us, but this was the first time I had gotten a glimpse of any of them. I observed them for several moments, feeling a strange sort of guilt and invasion at watching a women uncovered by a burqa, though she was obviously fully clothed in the cold weather. Furthermore, I could not even see her face from my vantage point, but nevertheless the sight of this woman was somewhat enchanting to me. When it's forbidden to even see a woman, there's an allure in doing such seeing, though seeing is certainly as close an encounter as a US servicemember and local inhabitant are likely to get in this particular conflict. As I was about to quietly withdraw my head back into my fortified little redoubt, she must have felt my eyes on her and quickly glanced up and saw me. I had time to see her face register innocent surprise before I retreated back to my dull confines.