Soldiers keep extremists at bay along Afghanistan's eastern border
September 14, 2006
FORWARD OPERATING BASE BERMEL, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Sept. 14, 2006) - Spec. Jose Pantoja shows off the danger of his mission along the border region of eastern Afghanistan: a scar on his cheek from an enemy bullet.<br/><br/>During one of the longest firefights his company has encountered - nearly four hours long - three others sustained gunshot wounds, and nearly everyone took minor wounds from rocket propelled grenade shrapnel.<br/><br/>"One of our guys actually got shot in his helmet," Pantoja said. "It knocked him down, but he got up and kept fighting."<br/><br/>Engaging in firefights is almost daily life for the coalition troops at Forward Operating Base Bermel, most attached to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. They keep enemy extremists at bay in this district in the eastern part of the Paktika Province, allowing Bermel to progress with reconstruction projects and establish a firm government.<br/><br/>The day after the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, two platoons - about 40 to 50 troops - were on patrol in the hills near the Pakistan border.<br/><br/>"We've been in quite a few firefights, particularly in the border region," said 1st Lt. Shawn Parnell, infantry rifle platoon leader. "They tend to be pretty violent, but we're out here proud to do the job we're doing."<br/><br/>This day, the patrol did not encounter the enemy fighters, but Soldiers knew they were out there.<br/><br/>"The enemy puts observers on the hill," said Spc. Colten Wallace of the rugged terrain they were patrolling. "When we go behind the ridgeline, they warn their guys and they set up ambushes for us. They get a good 30-minute warning that we're coming."<br/><br/>That's why Bravo Company takes no chances. If a mission must take them beyond the ridgeline, their point of no return, they fire off mortars to flush out enemy fighters and make sure air support is on hand.<br/><br/>On a hilltop surveying the ground below, Capt. Jason Dye, company commander, said he believes enemy fighters are starting to establish small camps in the border region.<br/><br/>"Before, they maybe had 30 or 40 guys in this whole area," he said. "Now, we're estimating they have closer to 250. That's Taliban, as far as I can tell, supported by foreign fighters."<br/><br/>Parnell said this region is a major infiltration route for enemy fighters. Bravo Company's long-term presence here is a critical factor in trying to keep out enemy extremists.<br/><br/>"This is a hotbed for insurgent activity," he said. "The people here are really starting to get used to us. In the villages along the border here, it's important to show them that we do care about them."<br/><br/>Parnell and his troops play a leading role in bringing security and stability to what was an ungovernable region just more than a year ago when the base opened. By separating the enemy from the district's residents, Bravo Company's mission allows reconstruction and governance to gain strength in one of the most impoverished areas of Afghanistan.<br/><br/>"We've only been in Afghanistan for five years, and we're going to be here for the long haul," Parnell said. "If me being here right now means my kids later on down the road won't be here, then it's worthwhile."