Afghanistan Still Battles Remnants Of Taliban

Air Force Maj. J. Scott Sanford is the Security Forces Squadron commander at Bagram Airfield, the largest base in Afghanistan. Sanford has an excellent vantage point of U.S. military operations against the Taliban, progress of the country’s new government and its challenges as a fledgling democracy.

With 16 years in service, he’s deployed out of Eielson, Alaska, and has an 11-year-old son. He has family in Arkansas and locally in Riverview and Brandon. Sanford spoke recently with Tribune correspondent MyLinh Shattan.

Tell us about your unit and its mission. We provide a wide variety of air power support to coalition forces in active combat against the Taliban and other insurgents throughout the country. My primary job is to provide security, base defense, anti-terrorist services for all the airport personnel in Bagram. We’re located about an hour north of Kabul, near Bagram village, and very centrally located with respect to what’s going on in the theater.

We operate very much like a police department. We have shift workers, assignments and sectors; you have a command center, like a 911 dispatch center. Then you have your staff running day-to-day operations such as administrative issues, supplies. On a day-to-day basis, it’s very routine.

The unit’s responsible for the flying mission, and we are flying on the aircraft to provide ground security and in-flight security when they go to remote operating locations.

What progress are you seeing? I’ve seen a lot of U.S. support for the Afghan government, not only fighting the Taliban, but directly supporting the government so they can take over and sustain themselves. Teams from Bagram called provincial reconstruction teams, PRTs, go into the various provinces to support local government from the ground up with infrastructure, services, water supply, food, schools.

The seat of power’s in Kabul. In the outlying areas, it’s very difficult to get good government. They’re coming along, but it’s going to be many more years before they have solid, stable government systems that provide police protection and support for their local populace.

There’s a lot of corruption still in the Afghan governmental agencies. That impacts us because we have joint operations. It’s disappointing. It’s difficult to overcome the attitudes that the Afghans have with regard to bribery.

The amazing thing to see is all these thousands of people working together from different countries. There are 14 other nations at Bagram. They do everything from demining for expansion of the airfield to reconstruction.

Most of the combat operations are happening in the mountainous areas in the south near Kandahar, but the mission is active all over the country with respect to building up support for the government. Outside the base, when you interact with Afghan people, they are very supportive of American forces. It’s a good relationship. Yet sometimes they can be mistrusting because of their [experience] with the Soviets.

Have you seen much of the insurgency? I personally have not been fired at, thankfully. This has been the worst year since 9/11, when we occupied Afghanistan shortly thereafter and kicked the Taliban out. It’s worst with respect to the number of attacks from Taliban and the number of American and coalition casualties. Unfortunately, we have to see that because we transport human remains from Bagram and observe ceremonies to mark that.

To what do you attribute the resurgence of the Taliban? It’s a culmination of time and safe haven to hide where we can’t find them. They use that to develop more planning and fortify their forces. They’re very fragmented, not a huge, large force as an army. I think they’re trying to take advantage of the instability of the new government. It’s trying to get on its feet and they’re trying to take any opportunity they can to weaken it.

It’s very dangerous as you go off the base. There are land mines. Afghan locals step on land mines just about once a day, and little girls and boys lose legs or arms and have to be transported to our hospital at Bagram for treatment. You see a wide range of things, from enemy contact to land mine accidents.

Some of our troops have been very close to danger. We captured a Taliban terrorist off base. We knew of his plan and we were able to set up an ambush. We interdicted this individual driving from Kabul north to Bagram to conduct his attack. Luckily nobody was hurt and he was incarcerated. It was a suicide bomber.

It’s very rewarding to take a terrorist off the street. There are plenty of them out there. But to be able to get one safely and take that threat away from Americans is rewarding.

How your unit’s morale? After a while it becomes Groundhog Day; everything looks the same. See the same people, eat in the chow hall every day. They’re looking forward to going home but very proud. Morale is high.

As for living accommodations, I live in a plywood box called a B-Hut. They’re building better accommodations, but it’s a plywood building that has an 8-by-8 cubicle for about six people,. You have a curtain you draw for privacy, and that’s your little cubicle. Live in that for six months and check your morale. [He laughs heartily.]

I reserve part of the day for physical training, PT. If you don’t really work out and try to keep your mind fresh, it really gets to you pretty fast. It’s close to 100 degrees, 5,000 feet elevation and surrounded by mountains. Very hot and the dust will come in. We got rain last week, which was nice. It will cool down in the winter, get snow on the ground. It’s kind of like Denver.

What’s the best part of this deployment? The reconstruction. It’s very nice to see American/coalition forces going out and helping the locals who live in that area. There’s tremendous good work [being done] to make that happen.

The most rewarding event is we got a known terrorist and captured him. I’m very proud of my guys. Without them, none of that would have happened.

Sep 3, 2006

0 Comments

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

Stay Up to Date

Rise above the tedium with the TreeHouseLetter. Always learning with a bit of fun.

Latest Posts

Memorial Day Speech: Because They Lived

9 Min read Memorial Day Speech Transcript and Video, New Canaan Town Hall Honoring seven New Canaan residents Remembering Hailey Hodsden Remembering the MH-60M Black Hawk #490 crew of the 160th SOAR(A) * Honored Resident Photos at this link * VIDEO OF SPEECH - follow...

“We Lived, Felt Dawn, Saw Sunset Glow”

3 Min read Memorial Day Vietnam War Toolbox: Speech writing and public speaking Creative nonfiction / True story Poetry for Emergencies * Last fall I received a request to be the speaker for Memorial Day. I was surprised and then I let it sink in. Me? The Local VFW...

That Teacher, You Know the One

5 Min read Poetry for Emergencies: E.E. Cummings On music: J.S. Bach Commencement speech * * Let's take a moment for teachers. That teacher, you know the one. Because, I have a confession to make. In the lottery of life and learning, if you're lucky then you have one,...

Meditation on Mother’s Day

4 Min read On mandalas On Kansas City On life in the middle * * It's wet and dreary here. And, in spite of the multitude of Mays that I've lived through, I continue to forget how busy this month is with graduations, weddings, parties. And, funerals. What I want to...

Semper Fidelis

4 Min read On patterns On Vietnam and Memorial Day Operation Frequent Wind 1 Book rec * * We had not met before though we had met in other ways, I suppose. We laughed in short order, having teared up moments before. But, first let me say this. The third time is a...

On Poetry, Spring, and Transition

4 Min read Poetry for emergencies 2 Poets Mary Oliver on things Lao Tzu on excess * When I moved from one house to anotherthere were many things I had no roomfor. What does one do? I rented a storagespace. And filled it. Years passed.First lines of "Storage" by Mary...

Small Delight: the Unexpected and the Good

3 Min read 1 Book rec * * I suppose it is the unexpected and the good which sustain us. The package arrived as media mail and I set the used copy on the counter. A week or so later, I began to read it, The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. What I discovered in its...

Topics

Inoculate yourself against the absurdity of life with a dose of the best ideas and writing. Always learning with a bit of fun.