The attack on Bariali did a great deal to diminish its infrastructure; much of the outpost had been burned, broken, or simply collapsed in the chaos, leaving little for International Forces to work with in the following days. This proved to be a matter of critical importance for the future of Bariali, as the infrastructure of any Observation Post is a hugely important matter for the soldiers who live and work within its walls.
Towers and watchposts provide valuable sightlines for International Forces, because as the attack on Bariali demonstrated, seeing the enemy coming is truly the first line of defense. Sandbags and their larger cousins Hesco barriers form heavy walls throughout the Observation Post, providing valuable protection against whatever munitions the Taliban attacks with, be it bullets or rockets, mortars or hand grenades. Finally, tarps and plywood cover men as they sleep, shielding them from the elements, the peace of mind afforded by a night’s respite invaluable for morale.
The building blocks of a proper outpost are not spun out of thin air. Hard, dangerous labor is required, and in the case of Bariali, engineers from the Indiana National Guard are there to fill that need.
To watch them work is to see men building at the edge of the world, erecting watchtowers and shelters at the edge of sheer cliffs, errant nails and wooden planks falling so far that their impact doesn’t even make a sound on the valley floor below. Seeing them pound nails and saw with such open space behind them recalls old pictures of men working on skyscrapers, their feet dangling over the concrete abyss; but whatever challenges faced by those men are dwarfed by the ones facing these engineers.
The greatest challenge is the constant danger they face from enemy forces. At any moment Taliban may fire on their positions, prompting an immediate halt to construction and a quick search for cover. Because of this the men must work in full battle rattle: body armor, helmet, ammo and rifle weighing them down and impeding movement. The job becomes even more trying as the sun rises in the sky, thin air making the rays burn in minutes, not hours, body armor increasing body temperature to at-times dangerous levels.
The engineers persevere through it, but try as they might, their effectiveness can be limited by factors out of their control.
Resupplying a worksite at the top of a mountain in a warzone is exactly as difficult as it sounds, and sometimes it is days before the next shipment of materials arrives at Bariali, halting work until the needed supplies arrive. But as with most things in this war, patience is an absolute necessity. The work will be slow-going, of this there is no doubt, but progress comes, bit by bit.
Bariali is here to stay, the work the engineers do will make sure of it. The going may be difficult at times, impossible-seeming at others, but ultimately the strength of the new Bariali will be determined not just by the men who occupy it, but by the men who built it. As International Forces continue their efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan we can only hope that these lessons are already being applied, and that a solid foundation is being built for Afghanistan’s future.