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View Full Version : Deep in a Hangar, U.S. Officers Direct the War in Afghanistan



thedrifter
02-13-03, 07:57 AM
By Mark Kennedy Associated Press Writer
Published: Feb 13, 2003

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) - The war room at the Bagram Air Base is open 24 hours a day, but few may enter and a sign reading "Who Else Needs to Know?" reminds people to keep silent about what happens here.
Inside, desks covered with laptops face a giant video monitor and U.S. military planners coordinate all combat operations in the still-dangerous eastern third of Afghanistan where allied forces hunt al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives. The mountains here may even be Osama bin Laden's hiding place.

The room is officially known as the 82nd JOC - the 82nd Airborne Division's Joint Operation Control. It has rarely been shown to reporters.

Here, two dozen or so staffers direct helicopters, planes, artillery and troops.

"This is the hub of it right here," said Lt. Col. Michael Shields, the senior operations officer who oversees the war room, constructed of plywood in the middle of an old airplane hangar.

The war room answers to a larger control room responsible for all combat operations in Afghanistan, but it handles the war's hottest area.

If U.S. troops are attacked, the soldiers in the war room decide how to respond. If an enemy base is detected - as recently happened during operation in the Adi Ghar mountains - the officers can direct planes and men to the location in seconds.

The room itself is a mix of old and new technology. Clunky old phones with secure lines look like World War II relics next to snazzy laptops. Up-to-date intelligence reports continually pop up in e-mail windows.

The big video monitor usually displays a digital map of Afghanistan, any section of which can be highlighted with a mouse click. Officers can zoom in so tight that a cluster of red blobs appears, pinpointing troop locations.

The officers say they try to never forget that each blip on the screen represents flesh-and-blood soldiers.

"To me, it's not in the back of my mind. It's in the forefront. That's what drives our decisions because we realize that if we make a mistake, people die," said Maj. Anthony Yando, who heads daytime operations.

"There's nobody up here who doesn't know what it's like to be out there," said Maj. Steve Devore, director of operations.

The war room is staffed around-the-clock by two shifts. If officers aren't directing an operation, they're conducting drills.

Tables and chairs are lined up in a semicircle, with the battle major and his chief of staff in the center. All decisions pass through them.

Behind them are the battle captains, in touch with the soldiers and constantly plotting their locations. On either side are battle officers monitoring communications, and intelligence officers with the latest info.

Even before a U.S. unit comes under fire, those desks likely are aware of the danger.

"Sometimes you can get little bits and pieces and start anticipating. You'll get a report that there's suspected enemy activity in a place, so you start thinking a little bit ahead," Devore said.

"Probably that's the most difficult thing - the fog of the battlefield. You'll have one unit reporting one piece of the information and another reporting another piece and they don't necessarily fit very well," Yando said.

The room's second layer is composed of an air defense artillery watch officer and a fire support officer - desks that can lob Patriot missiles against incoming aircraft and mobilize artillery. Nearby staffers maintain contact with the area aircraft.

Rounding out the team: weather forecasters; a liaison with the Afghan authorities; Army lawyers ready to consult the rules of engagement; unexploded ordnance experts; and a nuclear, biological and chemical watch officer.

On the outer edge are liaison officers representing all subordinate or sister units.

"I listen to every single one of these staff sections to tell me what's available and then based on available assets that I can send down there to support, I'll make the decision," Yando said.

Large paper maps like those in old war movies sit ready in the back in case the power goes out.

While tensions run high in the heat of combat, officers say cool heads will prevail.

"We don't let it get loud and we don't let it get tense," said Shields. "Generally it's calm. It's got to be that way."

Sempers,

Roger