The Chinook is the water buffalo of Afghanistan, used for dropping supplies to FOBs (forward operating bases), and ferrying back injured troops. One night we flew out of Camp Bastion on one to make a drop at a FOB in the Green Zone, but as the drop spot hadn't been marked properly, the Chinook had to fly over the FOB twice before asking the base to contact them and to send up a flare. But as soon as the flare went up, the helicopter's undercarriage began being peppered with artillery fire, so we dropped the load, and scuttled back to Bastion.
The next morning, we were over on the airfield when I saw the Chinook we'd been in the night before; its ramp was covered in blood. As soon as we'd come back, the helicopter had been called out again as a six-year-old Afghani boy had stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) and lost both his legs. He'd been picked up by ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) medics and flown back to Bastion on the Chinook, but he died en route. The body was taken back to the local mullah, and carried to his family. As an exercise in winning over the hearts and minds of the locals, this was laudable. But all they see is their dead son being delivered by a British soldier.
Looking for IEDs here is like looking for sand in the sand. As many civilians suffer IED injuries as ISAF forces, stepping on bombs left either by the Taliban or the Soviets. The insurgents are still using Heath Robinson devices made from old Soviet firearms, although increasingly they are using carbon rods instead of metal components to make their IEDs, making them more difficult to detect.
The hospital here is full of single amputees, double amputees, triple amputees. Then there are the others, the walking wounded, who are still able to fight. I met one Private who had been shot in the head by a sniper, one who had his teeth knocked out by an IED, and another who had spent two weeks transporting casualties back from the Green Zone. "You carry some of the men off the heli," she told me, "and you know they're going to spend the rest of their lives wheeling themselves about. It's no life, is it?"
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'