A LTHOUGH I'VE YET to have the pleasure of shaking his hand, I "met" Capt. David Henderson this summer when I was researching a column about how our government had not kept its promises to rescue the brave Iraqis who assisted Americans as translators.
A native Philadelphian, Henderson is a graduate of Roxborough High (2003) and West Point (2007), meaning that he is one of America's best. Originally in field artillery, he is serving his third tour in the Mideast, now embedded with Afghanistan's security forces.
He sent me something after a recent "insider attack." What he says is important, and there's no better voice to tell this story than his:
"The suicide attack that took place in Khost yesterday was against our base's soldiers. When you have only 90 people on the base, three U.S. killed in action (KIA) and three wounded-in-action (WIA) takes a heavy toll. We spent the better part of yesterday caring for our KIA/WIA and cleaning the blood from our vehicles and buildings. When I woke up yesterday, I never would've imagined having to pronounce soldiers as being deceased.
"While we are all trying to rationalize why three precious lives were taken from us yesterday, the men and women of our base would be quick to tell you that immediately after the explosion Afghan Security Forces were right there with us: loading U.S. KIA into our vehicles, securing our military equipment, caring for our wounded.
"An Afghan colonel was also killed in the blast, and he was driven to our base so he could be airlifted back to Kabul. Blood and sweat poured equally off both sides yesterday. When we mourned our dead today in the operations center, we mourned with our counterparts together, praying and offering condolences in both Pashto and English. This is one fight.
"I'm part of a 14-man embed team that works at the provincial level every day with the Afghan Uniform Police, Afghan National Army and National Defense Service. We also have dealings with the governor of Khost, Abdul Jabbar Naeemi. Most recently we had two meetings with the governor to address security concerns in the austere borderlands, places that historically the government of Afghanistan has had a hard time reaching or influencing. We are focusing on the drawdown of forces.
"Bases across Khost province (in addition to nationwide) are closing every month and being turned over to the Afghans. As U.S. forces withdraw from the country, special care is taken to insure there is not a drop in force protection. Along those lines, there is much being done to try and combat the 'insider attacks.'
"Something not addressed sometimes is that these are our partners. They fight every day just as we do. We are working together to secure Afghanistan. Blood and sweat on both sides. And, unfortunately, these attacks affect them also. An attack in one area destroys the morale of Afghan leaders and soldiers across the whole province. This is not to sound apologetic for the insider attacks, but rather to show how such attacks affect both sides of the partnership. I work alongside an Afghan colonel and I learn lessons from him just as he learns from me. He has been fighting to protect his country for longer than I've been alive.
"As soldiers we try to keep in mind that these actions of a few should not demonize the whole. That would be akin to saying all of Islam is bad because of the actions of a few, or all of Christianity is bad because of Westboro Baptist Church's extreme views.
"I believe that after 2014, when U.S. forces depart, the Afghan National Security Forces will continue to fight and secure their country. The ANSF, while not a mirror image of U.S. forces, have been fighting for their country's freedom for more than a decade now. Security is their priority. In my heart, and from what I've seen, I believe the ANSF will be more than capable of maintaining their progress."
I find Henderson's optimism encouraging. I fear that after we depart Afghanistan, chaos will descend. Let's hope he is right.
Contact Stu Bykofsky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-5977&. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns, go to philly.com/Byko.