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101st Airborne Division commander happy with progress of deployment

By David Josar, Stars and Stripes

European edition, Thursday, February 7, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Army Maj. Gen. Dick Cody, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, likes what he sees in Afghanistan.

"We pretty much got this deployment right," said Cody late Tuesday after he had reviewed the flight line, scoured foxholes and talked to the soldiers supplying Kandahar airfield.

In a wide-ranging interview, Cody, whose troops from the 101st recently took over operations from the Marines, said while the Taliban and al-Qaida remain dangerous adversaries, his troops are ready to stay until the mission is complete.

"This remains an unsafe place outside our perimeter," said Cody, who does not plan to visit outside the fenced, heavily fortified airfield. "But our guys are ready if anyone wants to get cute."

One of his stops at the airfield was the detention center that houses an unspecified number of prisoners who have been nicknamed "Smurfs" because they wear blue jumpsuits.

He said the military medical staff has done an "extraordinary" job mending the injured prisoners.

"I've seen amputees, all types of wounds," he said. "One man I saw had three bullet wounds and shrapnel wounds."

But Cody cautioned that these prisoners are dangerous.

"They are mean," he said. "They would kill any one of us if they had the chance."

The U.S. military halted the transfer of detainees - 324 in the U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility last week - to Cuba two weeks ago, but Cody said he expected the flights that move the prisoners to resume in a few days. In Washington, a Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity that those flights were expected to restart Wednesday for arrival in Cuba on Thursday.

Perhaps the best asset the 101st has brought to the airfield is the Apache assault helicopter, Cody said.

"They bring the firepower we need," he said.

Cody emphasized while he does not set U.S. State Department policy, he does not think the United States will be pulling out of Afghanistan soon.

"You can be assured that we wouldn't leave the country anytime quickly," he said. "There are still a lot of bad actors out there who have to be dealt with."

He said early estimates put the number of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters at about 50,000. If a person added the number of detainees and rough projections of people killed in the bombings and other attacks, the total is far fewer than that projection.

"The math doesn't add up," he said. "We're in for a marathon."

Part of that marathon includes humanitarian aid. But since airdrops of food have ceased, little has been done by the military but the Kandahar airfield could help carry out that mission.

Cody said the infrastructure for humanitarian aid missions is still being put in place, which includes networking with non-governmental aid agencies. He estimated that once that is in place, it would become a part of Task Force Rakkasan's mission, he just didn't know exactly when that would begin.

Meanwhile, soldiers will continue with their directives and Cody said he was impressed with the Screaming Eagles' high spirits.

While there is no running water, hot water or flushing toilets at Kandahar Airfield, many of these things will be addressed in the coming weeks or months.

The soldiers of the 101st, many of them still teen-agers, demonstrate a patriotism many people should not forget, the general said.

"No one should doubt the commitment of our youth," he said. "They were already waving the flag on Sept. 10th."

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