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War correspondent’s reportage shows so much depended on a simple bridge

Commentary by Kay B. Day

Spc. Ian Gelig was killed when a suicide bomber drove onto the Tarnak River Bridge. [Photo from US Army 82nd Airborne Div.]For an idea of the complex command structure necessary when different countries form a coalition in wartime, look no further than a post by war correspondent Michael Yon who is currently reporting from Afghanistan. The Bridge, a story posted by Yon on Thursday, discloses challenges in covering a country known for historic British and Russian military blunders. What’s even more intriguing is how much capital rests on a simple bridge in a country where transportation is tricky even on a good day. Yon wrote, “In Afghanistan, there might not be another route for hundreds of miles.”

Ironically the enemy is less affected if a strategic bridge is lost because they rely on less sophisticated weaponry and tactics.

How important is the Tarnak River Bridge? Yon wrote, “Yet this sorry little bridge is important to the United States and NATO, both for the sake of logistics, and, these days, strategy.  If the Tarnak river bridge were to be destroyed before or during the upcoming offensive, that inconvenience would become a genuine impediment to movement of troops and supplies.”

By necessity the defense of an area is broken into components—one fighting force is responsible for the land around the bridge, another is responsible for the bridge itself and so forth and so on.

On Monday, March 1, a suicide car bomb exploded on the Tarnak River Bridge.

And shortly thereafter Yon set out to learn who was actually responsible.

He asked, “Which Coalition partner has final responsibility for this strategic bridge?  Is it the RAF who “own” the ground, or TF-K who mentor the ANP guarding the bridge?  If an officer were to say this vital bridge is solely the responsibility of the ANP, his judgment would be deemed unsound.”

Yon’s article explains all those alphabet groups. If you want real war stories, bookmark Yon’s site. It's set up as an online magazine.

His article is a journey into the story of a bridge that on the face of things is probably not an expensive bridge or a work of architecture worth noticing. Yet the structure is a vital element in a major offensive. Media didn’t ask key questions about what happened and when the story was reported, facts were sorely lacking.

Yon wrote, “Media outlets chose to cite a source that ignored the fact that a strategic bridge was attacked, and instead focused on diversions, such as the timing of the Olympics, versus the damage to a strategic bridge under the very nose of a NATO general.  This diversion might serve to illustrate the ratings-driven focus from ‘news’ outlets seeking manufactured, inconsequential controversy.”

The day the suicide car bomber damaged the bridge, Spc. Ian Gelig was killed. Other soldiers were wounded. Civilians were also killed. The Contra Costa Times (Calif.) said the suicide bomber drove into Gelig’s vehicle on the bridge. Gelig was an Army paratrooper.

One of Gelig’s fellow soldiers told media, “He was always there for you when you needed something."

After reading Gelig's obituary in the paper, I realized he will stay with me as so many others do long after this war is forgotten. The day I became a mother my memory seemed to expand exponentially, and at the same time I began to see a value in human beings from the perspective of a parent. My children created a thread connecting me to others—a sort of universal bond I never envisioned as a young woman determined to focus only on career. I never planned on children until the day I met the man I married and changed many things I never thought possible. That, by the way, was the best day of my life.

A thought arises, pestering like Florida no see ums, the annoying little midges that sometimes bite me at night when I am outside gazing at the stars.

For Spc. Gelig, so much—everything, really—depended on a simple bridge.


[*We give a nod to William Carlos Williams’ iconic poem The Red Wheelbarrow.]


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