CHINARI OUTPOST, Afghanistan — Over Capt. Mohammed Raza's walkie-talkie came an intruder's voice: Faqir Talha, a Taliban fighter telling a comrade, "Everyone is with us. We will have a village meeting. It will be at 3 p.m. and everyone should come."
The plains of Logar Province are vast, but the distance between army and enemy can be small. The village of sun-dried mud huts where Raza suspects the insurgents' meeting is to take place lies barely less than a mile from Chinari outpost and its complement of 20 Afghan National Army troops,
It's not of much use to the soldiers, however. They have no way of pinpointing where the insurgents are gathering, and even if they did, they lack the firepower to mount an attack.
Two months previously a police post was destroyed by the Taliban, so the army set up a base on a hilltop where the men of the 4th Battalion of 203 Thunder Corps live in two 20-foot-long containers behind bags of rocks and rolls of barbed wire. Riding in humvees, they patrol a road that snakes through mountain passes and eventually ends in Pakistan, where the insurgents have a haven.
Two days ago they were attacked with rockets but suffered no injuries.
In 2014 when the last U.S. and NATO forces are gone, Afghanistan's defense will fall to troops like these. President Hamid Karzai says his army is ready.
The soldiers at Chinari outpost agree but feel seriously unequipped. Twenty of them share a single helmet, which they passed from one to another as they posed for photos.
No one denies the Afghan National Army has an equipment problem. President Hamid Karzai says he is disturbed by problems such as the helmet shortage. The U.S. is providing the army with new, lighter helmets, but not all the soldiers have them.
"There is definitely a logistics issue within the ANA. There is an awful lot of equipment purchased and sitting in warehouses until we get the logistics fixed and get the ANA trained to request the equipment and get it issued," Lt. Col. Timothy M. Stauffer, U.S. Army director of public relations, told the AP late in May.
Still, to an Associated Press reporter and photographer visiting Chinari outpost southeast of Kabul, the Afghan troops sound motivated and patriotic. They tend to dismiss the Taliban rank and file as poor youngsters who join up for the money, but in the next breath say much the same of themselves: Educated to 5th grade at most, or not at all, they enlisted because their families need the money.
The Taliban put religion in the forefront of their endeavors; these soldiers seem to lay more stress on love of country.
Most say they enlisted because they love their country, and because the $250 monthly salaries offer a way out of poverty. They say they aren't afraid of the Taliban, and expect the fighting to stop once foreign troops leave.
They represent Afghanistan's many and sometimes quarreling ethnic groups — Tajik, Uzbek, Pashtun and Hazara — and say ethnicity doesn't define them. They all say they dream of peace and prosperity for their homeland after 30 years of war.
They also all say they are disappointed that after 11 years and billions of dollars so little development has taken place, peace has eluded them and corruption is rife among their leaders.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company