HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Rising insurgency, rules of engagement, roadside bombs ... there’s something about Afghanistan that looks, sounds and feels like Iraq.
As Marines fight the Taliban in Helmand Province, there is no doubt that the lessons learned in Iraq are influencing the war in Afghanistan. Do the troops have enough supplies? Are there enough troops? Are the rules of engagement clear? For the Iraq retread, how can the military avoid past mistakes while moving forward?
“We are light; we’re not complaining about what we got,” Sgt. Major Robert L. Caldwell of the 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines told FOXNews.com at the Fiddler’s Green fire base.
“Everyone will always say they can use more, but there’s a difference between what you need and what you want,” Caldwell says in his South Carolina accent.
You go to war with what you have, but equipment saves lives, no matter how eager the Marines are to fight.
“We could use some more MRAPs,” Caldwell says.
The MRAP — the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle — has earned mixed reviews among the troops in Afghanistan. Mechanics complain of springs that bust too frequently. The sheer weight of the vehicles gets them stuck in the dusty pathways that pass for roads here.
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The military has placed orders for a lighter, smaller, all-terrain MRAP, but in the meantime the mammoth MRAP's higher blast protection is offset by a lack of spare parts.
“My vehicles and equipment are taking a beating,” says Lt. Col. Chris Braney, executive officer of Combat Logistics Battalion Eight, the Marine engineers tasked with building bases in hostile territory.
“I have 51 percent of the vehicles I’m allotted,” he says.
Transportation, equipment and supplies are all in high demand in Afghanistan, and vehicles come from wherever possible, including Iraq. “This stuff comes in gluts; everyone is aware of the situation,” Braney says.
“When we come in, we come in big,” said Gunnery Sgt. Victor O. Marks, the utilities chief. The Miami, Fla., native sees supply scarcity as a natural growing pain.
“Supplies is always an issue,” he says. “My job is always about suspension or improvement. This is only going to get bigger.” He motions to a row of tents behind him, where a group of Marines are fanning themselves because the A/C has blown out.
The 120-degrees-and-climbing heat is not new for those who have patrolled in Iraq, but at 2,000 feet above sea level, the Helmand heat steals stamina and sends more Marines to the medical tent.
“We’ve seen a big increase in heat casualties,” says Navy MD Lt. Heather Hinshelwood.
The military tries to adapt. Flame Resistant Organizational Gear is standard issue, along with a higher grade of body armor and a 1-liter Kamelbak in place of the old canteen. “The FROG uniform is more comfortable and dries quicker,” says James Gray, an Amphibious Assault vehicle operator.
Caldwell singles out a young lance corporal and barks sternly: “You got sunblock on?” The temperature outside is over 120 degrees, and the young, beet-red Marine nods. Caldwell orders him to get some rest, a commodity in short supply.
“There’s no such thing as fuzzy commands here,” Caldwell says. “This is where the rubber meets the road, and the rule of engagement are clear.”
There are no illusions about the quiet. Iraq has taught the Marines in Afghanistan that insurgents may disappear ... but they will resurface.