Musa Qala District, Northern Helmand Province, Afghanistan
A dozen Marines streamed from Patrol Base Griffin about two hours after dawn on Thursday, July 1, descending a rocky gravel slope leading straight into the village of Karamanda. The Americans were joined by two Afghan police officers, two Afghan soldiers, an interpreter, and a black bomb-sniffing dog named Bandit. The men walked in rigid single-file “Ranger formation,” each mimicking the footsteps of the person to his front to minimize the chance of stepping on a pressure plate IED. They moved in relative silence broken by greetings to villagers, occasional commands, and the odd joke. “Frankie,” a young Afghan interpreter from Kabul, began to tunelessly sing a song.