Chapter no 110


I NEVER FULLY GOT OVER how fast the Apache was.

We’d usually cruise above a target area at a civilized 70 knots. But often, hurrying to the target area, we’d open her up, push her all the way to

145. And since we were barely off the ground, it felt three times faster. What a privilege, I thought, to experience this kind of raw power, and to put it to work for our side.

Flying super low was standard operating procedure. Harder for Taliban fighters to see you coming. Alas, easier for local kids to throw rocks at us. Which they did all the time. Children throwing rocks was about all the Taliban had in the way of anti-aircraft capability, other than a few Russian SAMs.

The problem wasn’t evading the Taliban but finding them. In the four years since my first tour, they’d got much better at escaping. Humans are

adaptable, but never more so than in war. The Taliban had worked out exactly how many minutes they had from first contact with our troops until the cavalry came over the horizon, and their internal clocks were finely calibrated: they’d shoot at as many guys as possible, then bolt.

They’d got better at hiding too. They could effortlessly melt into a village, blend into the civilian population, or vaporize into their network of tunnels. They didn’t run away—it was far more diffuse than that, more mystical.

We didn’t give up the search easily. We’d circle, sweep back and forth, sometimes for two hours. (The Apache ran out of fuel after two hours.) Sometimes, at the end of two hours, we’d still be unwilling to give up. So we’d refuel.

One day we refueled three times, spending a total of eight hours in the air.

When we finally returned to base the situation was dire: I’d run out of piss bags.

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