Herat Province, Afghanistan – Our FOX News “War Stories” team has moved to a former Soviet military base in western Afghanistan, about 50 miles from the Iranian border. We’re now with the 207th Afghan Commando Battalion and their U.S. Special Operations Command, Army and Marine counterparts. This remarkable unit celebrated Afghanistan’s 89th Independence Day this week with a capture-kill mission on a Taliban stronghold.
In Khost, 400 miles east of here, near the border with Pakistan, Taliban terrorists observed the anniversary by killing 11 of their countrymen in a suicide car bomb attack against a U.S. base and followed up with a human wave of suicide bombers unsuccessfully storming Camp Salerno.
In Kabul, President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials commemorated the end of British rule nearly nine decades ago with a quiet memorial ceremony for those killed in the current seven-year-long fight for a free Afghanistan.
Here in the “Forgotten War,” Islamic radicals –- the Taliban and Al Qaeda –- are making a major push to destabilize the Karzai government. According to Afghan officials, foreign fighters are flowing across the porous border with Pakistan and enemy attacks are up more than 50 percent from a year ago. Yesterday, ten French soldiers were killed in a Taliban attack outside the capital. As usual, few in the so-called mainstream media bothered to note any of this.
Though American and coalition casualties have been nearly seven times higher in Afghanistan than in Iraq over the past four months, the campaign against a resurgent Taliban remains widely under-reported in the U.S. press. That’s why so many of our countrymen are unaware of the courage, commitment and sacrifice demonstrated by the 32,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serving and fighting in the shadows of the Hindu Kush. Their stories are profoundly stirring. Herewith, a few recent examples:
On July 23, 2007, Lance Corporal Garrett Jones (LCpl) was a “grunt” Fire Team Leader on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines (2/7) when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated practically beneath him, shredding his left leg. At the hospital, surgeons amputated the shattered limb above the knee to save his life.
Today, Garrett Jones is a Corporal (Cpl) – still with 2/7 – and serving here in Afghanistan. In less than a year, he has suffered life-threatening wounds, recuperated from surgery, endured rehabilitation, been fitted with a prosthetic leg, proved that he can perform in combat – and returned to duty. An avid “snow-boarder,” he plans to compete in the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, Canada.
Cpl. Jones could have taken a disability discharge and a pension for his wounds. Instead, he fought to stay on active duty and return to a war zone with those he calls his “battle buddies.” When I asked him why, he replied, “These are my brothers. I want to be where they are and continue to make a difference.” He is.
While we were embedded with 2/7, the battalion suffered a dozen serious casualties. Three Marines, Pfc Juan Lopez-Castaneda, LCpl Jacob Toves and Cpl Anthony Mihalo were killed in action (KIA) by improvised explosive devices. One of the wounded, LCpl Bryan Fisher, was flown to the British shock-trauma hospital at Camp Bastion. An excerpt from a message sent to me by the battalion chaplain, Lieutenant Russ Hale, CHC, USN:
“I went to the hospital to see LCpl Fisher, the ‘E’ Co. Marine who was wounded in the IED attack and had the unenviable task of sharing with him the names of the KIA from his platoon that were med-evaced after him. Like any human, he broke down and began to weep at the loss of his friends and brothers-in-arms. We spoke for a bit about loss and grief and how these kinds of events are not something a person ‘gets over,’ rather, we ‘get through’ and with God’s grace, we learn to cope in a healthy manner. As our conversation turned towards ways to honor the loss of his friends and his own future, LCpl Fisher floored me with his plans: ‘I'm glad I'll be here at ‘Bastion’ for awhile before I go back to the field. This will give me time to process my re-enlistment paperwork to stay in 2/7 and then I can return to my guys.’
“Here is a Marine who just lost three of his friends, could easily have been #4 of the KIA's, and his way of honoring his friends is to re-enlist to stay in the same battalion in order to return to the same place his friends were killed so that he can continue to carry the fight to the enemy. And what’s most important is that his actions are not an act of vengeance but an act of love; a way to honor his comrades. He inspires me.”
Stories like these should inspire you as well. Too bad the potentates of the press so rarely bother to cover them.
Oliver North hosts War Stories on FOX News Channel and is the author of the new best-seller, "American Heroes: In The War Against Radical Islam."