At War is a newsletter about the experiences and costs of war. Sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Friday.

I have two Moleskine notebooks, from each of my deployments to Afghanistan — the first in 2008 and the second in 2009 and 2010. For each entry, you’ll find the date, a few events, maybe a map or a list of acronyms. In the back I wrote the names of our platoon dogs, the books I read and the things I was going to buy when/if I got home.

Below are entries from three days that happened almost exactly nine years ago, during the 72 hours before Operation Moshtarak, the helicopter assault on the town of Marjah in Helmand Province. I was a 22-year-old rifleman with First Battalion, Sixth Marines. It was the first big mission of President Obama’s 30,000-troop surge. All of my friends were still alive

Back then we felt as if what came next would decide the end of the war, that Marjah was the Taliban’s last hold in a country that desperately wanted them gone. We were young and wrong.

Our commanders told us we’d be “Marjah Marines” in a battle would be akin to Falluja in Iraq or Hue in Vietnam. Historic. In 2019, the Taliban controls Marjah again, well most of it at least, except for maybe a few Afghan Army outposts. But I think there were a few years where we built some schools and walked around with hopes of not losing our legs.

Feb. 11, 2010

The day I wrote this we were at Camp Dwyer, a large base in Helmand Province. It’s still a large base today. Back then it had two chow halls. I tried to video-chat with my girlfriend in one of the phone centers. A bunch of plywood cubicles with dusty DSN phones and desktops. There was a separate AT&T phone center where you could use the phones with expensive calling cards. My unit was supposed to go into Marjah that night, but the mission got pushed back.

Rumor had it our landing zone had an antiaircraft gun somewhere in the area. That afternoon I checked some of the intelligence reports. First Battalion, Third Marines had cleared the five-points intersection at the northern tip of Marjah. They were a blocking force for our assault. I don’t know why I wrote “minor small-arms fire.” Maybe for some assurance?

On Feb. 11 my team lined up in front of one of the cement T-walls outside our tent for a picture. Jorge left his helmet strap unbuckled. Ryan wore a bandanna. Mike looked stupid in his Oakleys, and Matt ran inside and pulled an American flag out of his pack so we could pose with it. It took quite an effort to get everyone lined up for that picture. All these years later I’m glad we did.

Feb. 12, 2010

With the mission scrubbed for at least a day, I wasn’t going to use it to call home. The phone-center lines were always long, and I had already said I was leaving. I didn’t want to call back just go through the goodbyes again. We lay around on our cots. I think this was the day Josh sprayed the Punisher skull on the magazines of his MK-11 rifle. Kind of stupid, but we were all bored and scared. I think it was also the day that Josh got a letter from his on-again-off-again girlfriend. There was some hope, and he was excited about that. He held it up in the doorway, and I remember the sunlight and dust around him. Josh was killed that May.

Feb. 13, 2010

We left for Marjah.

The Latest Stories From At War

Editor’s Picks

Taliban Peace Talks in Moscow End With Hope the U.S. Exits, if Not Too Quickly: The most significant contact between insurgents and Afghan politicians was informal at best as the government was absent, but the Taliban offered some clarity on their positions.

Army Issues New Reprimand to Leader of Green Beret Team Ambushed in Niger: An earlier admonishment against Capt. Michael Perozeni was rescinded after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said junior officers were punished more harshly than commanders.

A Desperate Exodus From ISIS’ Final Village: A stream of families and fighters, many of them hungry or injured, are surrendering on a rocky patch of desert in southeastern Syria.

Don McCullin Is a War Photographer. Just Don’t Call Him an Artist.: His camera has captured conflict from Northern Ireland to Vietnam. An exhibition at Tate Britain in London shows some of his finest work.

Trump’s Plan for U.S. Forces in Iraq Met With Unified Rejection in Baghdad: President Trump’s plan for American troops in Iraq to “watch Iran” was roundly rejected by Iraq’s political establishment, with some calling on Parliament to act quickly to push out the Americans.

They Have Worked on Conflicts Overseas. Now These Americans See ‘Red Flags’ at Home.: A growing group of conflict prevention experts, many from war zones abroad, are beginning to apply their peacemaking skills to the American political divide.

The Black Sergeant and the White Judge Who Changed Civil Rights History: “Unexampled Courage,” by Richard Gergel, is a riveting account of the 1946 legal case that spurred the federal government to act in defense of racial equality.

Potato or Hand Grenade? A Rusty Bombshell at a Chip Factory: An unexploded bomb from World War I was discovered at a factory in Hong Kong after being harvested with potatoes in France.

We’d love your feedback on this newsletter. Please email thoughts and suggestions to [email protected]. Or invite someone to subscribe through this link.

Read more from At War here or follow us on Twitter.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff is a reporter in the Washington bureau and a former Marine infantryman. @tmgneff

Source: Read Full Article