Greetings from Kandahar. I’ve spent the last few days on an airfield in southern Afghanistan, embedded with U.S. forces. It’s very hot — like 106 degrees hot. Fighting is a daily occurrence (I saw one firefight, from a good distance, this morning) and rocket attacks on base are the norm. (In fact, I lost a draft of this blog post as a bunch of rockets landed, the power went out, and I ended up on the floor alongside other folks.)
For most soldiers here, the high stakes political wrangling that goes on in Washington doesn’t usually register on their radar. The focus is the mission, what they have to do day- to-day. Talk of Jim Jones and Bob Gates and Ambassador Eikenberry feels pretty irrelevant when you’re lugging a Hellfire missile across a runway in 106-degree heat. (Many Hell Fire missiles, btw, have slogans painted on them. I saw one yesterday that had “Fuck Your Couch” written on it.) But the story on Gen. McChrystal we published in Rolling Stone appears to have sparked a bit more interest than usual on the ground: Our troops may or may not have a new commanding general soon, depending on how the meeting with President Obama and General McChrystal goes.
A number of troops and private contractors have told me what they think of the story. It’s small, informal, biased sample, for sure. But it’s generally broken down into two categories of feeling: glee or relief.
McChrystal’s new directives — from restricting U.S. forces ability to attack the enemy to banning Burger King — have a created a widespread backlash among the soldiers here. (We talk about in the piece, and CJ Chivers at The New York Times did a story on it today.) When a private contractor found out that I was the guy who wrote the McChrystal story, he immediately said, “Good.” Then he directed me to check out a wooden wall covered in graffiti, where the soldiers had apparently vented their frustrations about the new directives, rather graphically. Another soldier told me that the point of view shared by many soldiers was finally being heard — that the rules being handed down from on high aren’t working, and that America is not winning the war.