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December 20, 2013

Nemitz: One small step

A foray to a village to search for Taliban weapons ends with an impressive parade of camouflage.

By Bill Nemitz

(Continued from page 1)

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Staff Sgt. Anthony Marson of Richmond waves to onlookers Saturday as the Maine Army Natonal Guard’s Bravo Company marches for the first time through the Afghan village of Chamkani.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn shakes hands with local boys.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram columnist Bill Nemitz is reporting from the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Nemitz left Memorial Day weekend to join the 152 Maine men who make up Maine Army National Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry. They are among the 94,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.

Outside a small clutch of ancient-looking stone homes, an elderly Afghan man in a white tunic stands in a doorway and stares at the soldiers as they pass. He says nothing.

A short time later, Sgt. Frederick Moody of Gorham, a member of Bravo Company's intelligence unit, spots a similarly dressed man moving parallel with the platoon across a vast open field.

"I think that's the same guy we passed a little while ago," Moody says, his high-tech binoculars fixed on the distant figure.

The march presses on over waist-high wheat fields, past pungent patches of marijuana that grow wild everywhere throughout this region and through the knee-deep, fast-moving waters of Darya-ye (River) Chamkani.

Eventually, the platoon splits into two groups.

One, led by platoon leader Lt. Patrick Foley of Norwood, Mass., heads to the waste dump and one of the residential compounds.

The other, led by Staff Sgt. Anthony Marson of Richmond with oversight by Bosse, zeroes in on the other compound.

Quickly and silently, Marson's soldiers and their Afghan counterparts take their positions along rock walls below the compound and high atop the ridges above.

As the first ray of sun clears the horizon, the soldiers have the place surrounded. 

5 a.m.: Afghan advance units report that a Taliban member believed to sometimes live inside the maze of stone rooms and open passageways is nowhere to be found.

But his brother, a suspect in recent improvised explosive device, or IED, attacks against American and Afghan forces, is quickly identified by Afghan officers and detained.

Bosse dispatches Spc. Jeffery Cantara of Biddeford and Sgt. Nikolas Edwards of Livermore to search the compound alongside a group of Afghan officers and two local elders.

"I appreciate your cooperation," Bosse tells the elders through an interpreter. "We want to make this as easy as possible for everybody and still do our job."

After almost an hour, during which a young man serves hot chai and bread to Bosse and others in the search party, Cantara and Edwards return with about a dozen Afghan men of various ages in tow.

"We didn't find anything," reports Edwards, as the Afghan men squat nearby, nervously stroking their long beards.

"There's probably about 20 children in there," notes Cantara. "And probably a dozen women."

(Not once do the women, who Cantara says were all fully covered in black burkas, appear even at the entrance or windows of the compound.) 

6:15 a.m.: The compound search over, the squad turns its attention to the man who has been detained.

Bosse explains to him that he'll be brought to FOB Chamkani, where his skin will be tested for exposure to explosives.

"If you even touched them in the last week, we're going to find out," Bosse says. "So cooperate with us now and give us information and we'll be able to help you out a little."

The man says he knows nothing. As a small group of young Afghan boys looks on, an Afghan Uniform Police officer puts him in handcuffs and leads him away.

Bosse turns his attention to the boys, shaking their hands and asking them where they go to school.

"You guys have a good day," he finally tells them. "Stay out of trouble -- and don't play with IEDs."

The boys all smile and wave as the search party pulls out.

Bosse says the detained man, assuming he tests negative for explosives, probably will be questioned and released.

But he makes no apologies for arresting someone he firmly believes has Taliban connections.

"I'm all about being a pain in their ass," Bosse says. 

(Continued on page 3)

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Additional Photos

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Soldiers from Bravo Company's First Platoon and a member of the Afghan Border Police cross a rickety bridge Saturday near the Afghan village of Meydani.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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A young Afghan boy shows off his slingshot while he and his friend visit with Bravo Company soldiers Saturday outside Meydani.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Bravo Company commander Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn chats with a local elder during Saturday's search operation. No weapons were found, but a man suspected of Taliban ties was detained.

Bill Nemitz/Staff Columnist

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Photos by Bill Nemitz5 lines plz - Top photo: Staff Sgt. Anthony Marson of Richmond waves to onlookers Saturday as the Maine Army Natonal Guard’s Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry marches for the first time through the Afghan villiage of Chamkani. Inset: Capt. Paul Bosse of Auburn greets a group of young Afghan boys Saturday as Bravo Company enters the village of Chamkani.


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