Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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Between October and the end of March, K-Bar - named for a military knife used by SEALs - took 107 detainees and tallied at least 115 confirmed enemy deaths, Harward said from his office at Naval Special Warfare headquarters in Coronado.
In Harward, K-Bar had a well-traveled commander who learned fluent Farsi in his youth in Tehran, Iran, where his father worked in the U.S. embassy. During a summer off from high school, he had hitchhiked through Afghanistan, but the land he saw during Operation Enduring Freedom had become much harsher, drier and poorer.
"It just seems like it had worn very hard," he said. "I think hope did not exist in their vocabulary."
In its size and scope, K-Bar - the vision of Rear Adm. Bert Calland, now in charge of Navy SEALs - added a new page to the playbook of the U.S. military, which in the past typically used Army, Navy and Air Force commandos in small numbers with limited support roles.
Missions included a search-and-destroy operation in January against a honeycomb complex of 70 caves near the Pakistani border. Inside, troops found piles of ammunition, tanks, rockets and communication equipment along with al-Qaida recruiting posters.
Hostile fighters fled the caves to nearby hills and K-Bar forces called in carrier-based Navy airstrikes, killing an unknown number of al-Qaida members.
"It's what I call the 'Gilligan's Island' operation. It started out as seven hours and ended up being nine days," said Harward, a rock-ribbed 46-year-old with deep-set blue eyes.
In late February, K-Bar captured Mullah Khairullah Kahirkawa, a former Taliban governor, Harward said. The night operation was put together with 30 minutes' notice when unmanned aircraft spotted a convoy leaving a compound where Khairullah was believed to be, he said.
As they struck deeper into al-Qaida's power structure, K-Bar began to see a new kind of enemy emerge.
Pointing to a photo his men took of an al-Qaida surveillance post high in the mountains, Harward said matter-of-factly: "We saw here, for the first time, when we killed these guys, these were not the dark-skinned Afghans. These were the red-haired, white-faced Chechens." The suspected al-Qaida members, who appeared to be well-funded and well-equipped, wore Adidas shoes as they manned an anti-helicopter weapon, Harward said.
K-Bar attracted some unwanted attention in a Jan. 23 nighttime raid at Hazar Qadam that killed about a dozen people, who turned out not to be al-Qaida or Taliban. But who they were remains unclear. Harward said Afghanistan is a place where the line between friend and foe is often blurred.
Harward said his men opened fire only after an Army Special Forces soldier was shot and wounded in the ankle.
"There were allegations that we shot people in their sleep, that we assassinated people," said Harward, who dismisses such claims. "If we want to assassinate someone, we just put two bullets in their head."
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