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5.8 MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS
Spin Boldoz is an Afghan town in Kandahar province close to the border with Pakistan. As we approach the town – with the US 2nd Cavalry Stryker Regiment – the town’s market square is teeming with Afghan civilians haggling over stalls of fruit and vegetables. Smoke from cooking fires and braziers mix with the diesel exhaust of the Stryker Brigade’s armoured vehicles. Donkeys, goats and sheep are tethered and ready for sale. The regiment’s radios are humming with chatter and overhead an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) buzzes lazily over the town. Lurching to a halt, the troops dismount from the armoured vehicles to take up defensive positions. Accompanied by Afghan National Police (ANP) and interpreters the ground commander moves into a building occupied by the village elder. Whilst a loose security perimeter is established outside, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Green from Seattle informs the elder through an interpreter that they are here to detain a group of Taliban militants. Intelligence indicates they are located in a building on the outskirts of town. The village elder speaks urgently in Pashtun – his staccato punctuation indicating concern. Things move rapidly thereafter as US troops begin to fan out and move towards a building at the end of the street. They take up firing positions outside the house and indicate through hand signals that it is surrounded with interlocking arcs of fire. Following an instruction given in Pashtun, troops from the Afghan National Army (ANA) enter the house, calling on the occupants to come forward. As they do so, the market square is rapidly clearing of civilians running for cover. Gunfire suddenly erupts from a house across the street as a group of men make a run for a nearby tree-line. Their movements are disciplined and co-ordinated. The Taliban fighters use orderly fire and manoeuvre to escape the US perimeter. US troops return fire and two armoured Stryker vehicles move up to provide cover for the knot of ANA personnel exposed on the main street. The 50 Cal machine gun on one of the vehicles lays down suppressing fire as the US troops shout orders, organizing a hasty pursuit. Just then the heavy machine gun jams. As the gunner makes furious attempts to clear the weapon a soldier shouts ‘Why is that gun not firing? We’ve got enemy over here’. A laconic voice from an eighteen-year old soldier inside the vehicle replies, ‘Because the gun is jammed. Like we already told ya - dumb ass’. This breaks the tension and loud laughter breaks out. The ‘Taliban’ or ‘opposing force’ re-emerge from the tree-line and walk away for their briefing. For this is not the real Afghanistan, but a complex simulation located at a US military training area in Germany. Spin Boldoz – or Ubungsdorf translating literally as ‘training town’ – returns to normal. The Afghan ‘villagers ‘re-emerge to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. The US troops re-organise themselves and prepare to re-enter the village and repeat the exercise one more time. Ubungsdorf is just one of several ‘Afghan’ towns and villages located at the US Joint Mission Readiness Centre, (JMRC) Hohenfels, Germany. Located just north of Munich, the JMRC covers an area of approximately 40 square kilometers.
Clonan, T., 2010: Simulated Afghan Towns: US Military Training Germany, Dublin: The Irish Times.