On The Way Back To Base: 'We're Gonna Get Shot At'

  • Sgt. Kyle Gonzales, a sniper with the 82nd Airborne, smokes a cigarette after a battle near the village of Babaker, Ghazni province. The soldiers have been engaged in gun battles every time they push into the hamlets north of their forward operating base.
    Hide caption
    Sgt. Kyle Gonzales, a sniper with the 82nd Airborne, smokes a cigarette after a battle near the village of Babaker, Ghazni province. The soldiers have been engaged in gun battles every time they push into the hamlets north of their forward operating base.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Soldiers walk through a driving rainstorm on the landing zone of Forward Operating Base Giro.
    Hide caption
    Soldiers walk through a driving rainstorm on the landing zone of Forward Operating Base Giro.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Soldiers walk past an abandoned gas station after a gun battle with insurgents near the village of Pana, Ghazni province.
    Hide caption
    Soldiers walk past an abandoned gas station after a gun battle with insurgents near the village of Pana, Ghazni province.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Sgt. Kyle Gonzales prepares to reposition himself during a battle near the village of Babaker.
    Hide caption
    Sgt. Kyle Gonzales prepares to reposition himself during a battle near the village of Babaker.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A soldier stands in front of a group of men from Babaker, while they wait to be questioned by Afghan National Army troops.
    Hide caption
    A soldier stands in front of a group of men from Babaker, while they wait to be questioned by Afghan National Army troops.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. John Ewing of Denver runs through incoming insurgent rounds during the battle in Babaker.
    Hide caption
    Pfc. John Ewing of Denver runs through incoming insurgent rounds during the battle in Babaker.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Staff Sgt. Laverne Schwartz takes up position as insurgent rounds hit the other side of a mud wall used for cover.
    Hide caption
    Staff Sgt. Laverne Schwartz takes up position as insurgent rounds hit the other side of a mud wall used for cover.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Soldiers try to spot the location of insurgents firing at them in Babaker.
    Hide caption
    Soldiers try to spot the location of insurgents firing at them in Babaker.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Sgt. 1st Class John Foster, with the Security Force Assistance Team attached to the 82nd Airborne, walks with an Afghan National Army soldier between mud-walled compounds in Babaker.
    Hide caption
    Sgt. 1st Class John Foster, with the Security Force Assistance Team attached to the 82nd Airborne, walks with an Afghan National Army soldier between mud-walled compounds in Babaker.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Derik Moe, of Pasco, Wash., smokes a cigarette behind the sandbag walls of makeshift sleeping quarters, located in an old office building.
    Hide caption
    Derik Moe, of Pasco, Wash., smokes a cigarette behind the sandbag walls of makeshift sleeping quarters, located in an old office building.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A letter written by a student in the U.S. and sent to the soldiers here is proudly displayed on the wall of the men's compound in Afghanistan. It reads "Don't Be a Chicken."
    Hide caption
    A letter written by a student in the U.S. and sent to the soldiers here is proudly displayed on the wall of the men's compound in Afghanistan. It reads "Don't Be a Chicken."
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Zafar, an Afghan army soldier, waits in the doorway of what was once an elementary school for the village of Pana, but now serves as the soldiers' barracks and headquarters.
    Hide caption
    Zafar, an Afghan army soldier, waits in the doorway of what was once an elementary school for the village of Pana, but now serves as the soldiers' barracks and headquarters.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Abdul Khalik (center), from Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan, shares a cup of tea with fellow Afghan army soldiers after Friday prayers in an old school building that they call home.
    Hide caption
    Abdul Khalik (center), from Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan, shares a cup of tea with fellow Afghan army soldiers after Friday prayers in an old school building that they call home.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Jesse Bergen (top left), Pfc. Derik Moe (center) and PV2 Alex Serrano pass the time between patrols by watching movies and cleaning their weapons in their hooch, which they have affectionately named the "Snake Pit."
    Hide caption
    Pfc. Jesse Bergen (top left), Pfc. Derik Moe (center) and PV2 Alex Serrano pass the time between patrols by watching movies and cleaning their weapons in their hooch, which they have affectionately named the "Snake Pit."
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Officers with the Afghan National Police play cricket on the hillside next to Forward Operating Base Giro. The Afghan National Army, National Directorate of Security and Afghan National Police all share space with the soldiers from the 82nd Airborne. The transition from NATO forces to Afghan-led bases and daily operations is one of the key U.S. goals in Afghanistan this summer.
    Hide caption
    Officers with the Afghan National Police play cricket on the hillside next to Forward Operating Base Giro. The Afghan National Army, National Directorate of Security and Afghan National Police all share space with the soldiers from the 82nd Airborne. The transition from NATO forces to Afghan-led bases and daily operations is one of the key U.S. goals in Afghanistan this summer.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • This cobbled-together collection of buildings, once used as Afghan government offices and previously occupied by the Polish army, is now home to the 82nd Airborne. All of their supplies are flown in by helicopter; the surrounding roads were rendered unusable by homemade bombs.
    Hide caption
    This cobbled-together collection of buildings, once used as Afghan government offices and previously occupied by the Polish army, is now home to the 82nd Airborne. All of their supplies are flown in by helicopter; the surrounding roads were rendered unusable by homemade bombs.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Afghan soldiers and officers with the National Directorate of Security question the father of a suspected Taliban facilitator who is wanted for his involvement in building and placing homemade bombs in Giro district.
    Hide caption
    Afghan soldiers and officers with the National Directorate of Security question the father of a suspected Taliban facilitator who is wanted for his involvement in building and placing homemade bombs in Giro district.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • An Afghan soldier carries a backpack filled with extra ammunition and a spare rocket-propelled grenade while on a joint operation foot patrol with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne.
    Hide caption
    An Afghan soldier carries a backpack filled with extra ammunition and a spare rocket-propelled grenade while on a joint operation foot patrol with soldiers from the 82nd Airborne.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Habeeb Al-Mashala (left) of Detroit and Medic Spc. Chris Green of San Antonio pull away from an overwatch position as other members of their team move on a trail below.
    Hide caption
    Pfc. Habeeb Al-Mashala (left) of Detroit and Medic Spc. Chris Green of San Antonio pull away from an overwatch position as other members of their team move on a trail below.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A sniper with the 82nd Airborne looks for enemy activity from behind the cover of a boulder near the village of Pana.
    Hide caption
    A sniper with the 82nd Airborne looks for enemy activity from behind the cover of a boulder near the village of Pana.
    David Gilkey/NPR

1 of 20

View slideshow i

U.S. and Afghan forces are fighting to gain control of a major crossroads in a part of Afghanistan that has seen so few NATO troops that one village elder mistook the Americans for Russians — from the long-ago Soviet war.

"It's an absolutely crucial area," says NPR photographer David Gilkey, who has been embedded with U.S. troops involved in the offensive in eastern Afghanistan's Ghazni province.

"It's gorgeous," Gilkey tells Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne. "It's a valley, and it sort of reminds me of the high desert area in Arizona. That said, it's also quite dangerous. It's where Highway 1 runs from Kabul to Kandahar. It is the key road that runs north to south."

Gilkey spent some 10 days with the 82nd Airborne, as soldiers mounted patrols from a forward operating base called Giro.

"This is the first time that anybody has been out in the little hamlets and villages in years," Gilkey says. "And pretty much every time we went on a patrol, we were getting shot at."

In fact, he was with a patrol when it was engaged in a firefight, with bullets whizzing past — their sounds were caught on Gilkey's recording equipment.

"On the way back, the guys were talking: 'We're gonna get shot at,' " he says. "And sure enough, within about 10 minutes, the shooting started."

The American group did not sustain any casualties on that patrol, Gilkey says. During the conflict, the U.S. soldiers and trainers urged their Afghan counterparts to be patient in the face of the gunfire. They're also trying to instill more planning in the Afghans' operations, Gilkey says.

"And that's where it gets a little tricky," he adds. "It's easy to go out there and get shot at. It's another thing to bring everybody back safely — and have accomplished the mission."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.