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The Battle of OP “Couch”

by Joseph Kassabian

Sub District Two, Kandahar, Afghanistan. Like any other day during deployment, the soldiers of second squad ‘The Hooligans’ were on a dismounted combat patrol through the fields and villages outside of their home of a year. Strung out along through the cramped, dusty, village of Haji Arab in the darkness lit only by the moon overhead, the Hooligans silently patrolled through the streets while the people slept. After going through the area for a few hours, the squad bunkered down at a nearby established Observation Point (OP) ‘Couch’, so named for the randomly junked couch that lay in a nearby open field. US forces routinely carry out OP operations, the goal is not to be seen or heard, only to watch the area for any activity.

I spoke with one of the soldiers, who wished to remain anonymous, about the fight. “We heard an explosion pretty far away, about two clicks. Slim called up the TOC and told them about it, they said they knew where it came from. So we got up and started moving out to where the sound came from to investigate and the rounds started coming down on us, right over our heads. Everyone hit the ground since there was no cover” He laughs, “besides the open field we were in; there was only a giant hay stack nearby. Once we found the fire was coming from a roof top across the street, Slim got us all on line and we started returning fire. We advanced about thirty meters and dropped to the prone stance, exchanged fire again, got up and advanced forward again. The tracers ripped right past us as we advanced, until we finally found some cover behind some trees and a small dirt mound.” He smiles, “Once we finally got a good position we really opened up on the roof, the M240 tore it up.” The M240 is a heavy support machine gun. “Slim was returning firing and calling up the TOC on the radio for our QRF (quick reaction force). It felt like it took them forever to show up, but it was only about ten minutes. The trucks pulled up and sent out dismounts towards the house the fire was coming from, but when they got in and cleared the building they just found a bunch of brass (empty shell casings) and bullet holes.”

It was not only the soldiers first time under fire, but second squad was the first group in our company to come in contact with the enemy this deployment. “Everything slowed down.” He shook his head, trying to come up with the words to describe what took place. “It was like someone flipped a switch in my head, I knew it was game time.” When asked what gave him the drive to advance across an open field straight at the enemy shooting at him, “I knew he wasn’t going to leave unless we got fire superiority or we killed him.” No one in second squad was hurt.

This is what the Afghan War consists of. Small fire fights with an unseen enemy who hides among the same people you will probably walk by and wave to. Policy is to treat all the civilians with the respect we would give to our own people, but any single person you look at could have something hidden in their robe, it’s not uncommon for a Taliban fighter to simply walk up to an American patrol and blow himself up, or shoot at a soldier at point blank range. With realities such as these, and the policies that are in place, who does our government care about more? A soldier dies, it’s tragic, but explainable as ‘He was a soldier, that was always a possibility.’ When an afghan civilian dies it’s ‘Something we could have prevented.’ How come all of these deaths aren’t ‘preventable’? What will the price be before things stop being ‘tragic’ and they start being an outrage?

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