The Rules of Engagement
Senjaray is a warren of mud walls and unpaved streets, dust and more dust, shaped like a hornet's nest hanging from the branch of a tree. The branch is the Afghan Ring Road, a two-lane paved highway. The U.S. fort is located just north of the highway; the Taliban control the land to the south, a lush farming area, irrigated by water from the Arghandab River. The dividing line is a canal that runs along the southern border of the town; the Pir Mohammed School sits on the banks of both that canal and one other, which runs along the eastern edge of the hornet's nest. "It's a crucial strategic position," Ellis says. "My plan was to build a strongpoint next to the school that would later be converted into an Afghan police station. It was necessary to protect the teachers and students, but it was also necessary to protect the town. That intersection was the Taliban's way in, and as soon as the enemy found out that we wanted to reopen the school, they began to concentrate their forces on the area as well." Indeed, sources up the chain of command told me that the Taliban were moving forces into the Arghandab Valley, in anticipation of the summer fighting season.
And yet, the war in Senjaray had an odd, lugubrious battle rhythm. There were few direct confrontations between the Americans and the Taliban; the usual sounds of war, the crackle of small-arms fire and thump of mortars were rarely heard. Just an occasional boom — as an IED went off. Sometimes the Taliban blew themselves up, attempting to set the bombs; occasionally, Americans were the victims. On Feb. 21, one American was killed and another severely wounded in an IED explosion just south of town. "I decided to stop the patrols down there after that," Ellis says. "Given the rules of engagement, it was just too dangerous to keep going there and getting blown up."
See the Time piece for the rest of this… pl