Saturday, August 13, 2005

Donkeys Get Marines Around in Afghanistan - Los Angeles Times

Donkeys Get Marines Around in Afghanistan - Los Angeles Times

KANDAGAL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military has gone low-tech. Frustrated with the limitations of using its fleet of modern Humvee four-wheel-drives in rugged mountains with few roads, a battalion of Marines has enlisted the help of transport vehicles that Afghan villagers have been using for centuries -- donkeys.

About 30 of the animals have been rented from local farmers to haul food and bottled water to hundreds of Afghan and U.S. troops on a major two-week operation to battle militants deep in remote mountains in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province.

'With all the smart bombs and the modern stuff in war nowadays, this is the best way for us to resupply our troops there,' said Lt. Col. Jim Donnellan, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, which is based in Hawaii. 'It's also much cheaper for the U.S. taxpayer for us to rent the donkeys than for everything to be air-dropped.'

Using aircraft to resupply the forces is also dangerous.

In late June, militants in the area shot down a special forces Chinook helicopter, killing all 16 troops on board, as it tried to land in one of the many steep-sided, wooded valleys that snake their way through the mountains.

The operation, which began Friday, is aimed at flushing those fighters out of the valley and U.S. commanders are nervous about risking other choppers in the process.

From a temporary resupply base in a corn field near Kandagal, a tiny village, at one end of Korengal Valley, where the militants are suspected of hiding, squads of Marines with heavy packs on their backs led out lines of donkeys, each laden with two boxes of water, a box of food rations and a sack of grain.

While each Marine carried enough food and water for themselves for two days, the donkeys gave each squad supplies for an extra 48 hours. Once finished, the animals would be led back to the resupply base to load up again and then return to the mountains.

Before coming to Afghanistan, some of the troops received training in handling donkeys at the Marines' Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Nevada, said Capt. John Moshane.

'Marines have used donkeys since the American revolution,' he said, as each animal was being spray painted with a number for identification. "

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