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Leopards in Afghanistan

Camp Hasum Ghar| DAY 10 – We finally made it out of Kandahar yesterday and took a 20-minute Canadian Chinook flight here to Camp Hasum Ghar. This camp is nestled into the side of a mountain in the middle of the desert. I can tell security here is a lot different than in Kabul. This is a black out camp, meaning no lights are used at night. You can only use red lights to walk around because it’s too risky to use white light. Ken and I are starting to get closer to the bad guys, and you can really feel the difference. Good bye civilian clothes, it’s now time to armor up.

The reality here is, while it may be scary outside of the perimeter, I feel safe inside, especially when I look all around and see the weapons pointing away from me. Plus, there are more Leopard II A6M tanks around here then cars in a mall parking lot. Canadian tanks, like Afghan food, make my body feel good.

The Canadians seem pretty comfortable here. They live in wooden buildings, surrounded by t-walls. They live two to a room and even get internet. One of the female tank crew members Ken interviewed in his vlog, showed me around. They get to have pets and she introduced me to Sketchy, their pet mongoose. I never knew mongoose lived in Afghanistan, so seeing one was suprising. They had a nice cage for it and fed it red licorice and other food. Her name was Sketchy because she is really shy.

We had a chance to sit around and talk with the soldiers and they all seemed in good spirits. They told me about their quick response missions they do out of there. If something happens, they go help. Imagine if you got into trouble back home, a police car would show up, but in this area a force of Leopard II tanks would come. We’ve entered a different world.

Seeing all of these tanks, I couldn’t help but feel this was a conventional war, where tanks upon tanks battle it out against other tanks. But this is a counter insurgency and it’s different. It’s a mindset, it’s about building relationships and trust with the Afghan people, and so together we can flush the bad guys out and eventually bring peace and stability to the country. How can you build relationships while sitting behind inches of armor and driving tanks through a farmer’s field?

I asked, and obviously, tanks fall into the security branch of counter insurgency and you can use them as on-the-ground show of force. Aircraft do the same thing in the air. If an aircraft buzzes the bad guys at 200 feet they tend to run away – same goes with tanks. When you see one of these guys pushing through a village, the bad guys know what’s best for them, run. 

They also said you have to be really careful with tanks, because you might create an insurgent when you drive it through a farmer’s field. That may sound weird at first, but what I’m learning is there are different levels of bad guys, active Taliban supporters, Taliban supporters, neutrals, government supporters and active government supporters. Bad guys can go from just supporting to actively supporting back to supporting in a week. All it takes is one tank to drive across a field and you make the farmer mad, they come and shoot at you a little bit and hold that grudge until the relationships are repaired. That’s why the Canadians are careful in their employment of armor.

Camp Hasum Ghar has more than tanks. The Canadians have artillery, engineers, infantry and others to support the mission. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be able to talk to more of them and find out what this area is like and how counter insurgency works here. We’ll be continuing our journey tomorrow to a place without internet, so Ken and I will not be able to update the Web site. I’ll continue to write while I’m out there and update the site as soon as we return. Wish us luck! We hope to have some great experiences to share with you.

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