Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009

Dive Bombing

Best Place to Swim in a War Zone
Helmand, Afghanistan

Deep in the middle of enemy territory, where Taliban own the night while British forces patrol by day, there lies a treasure so precious that few will admit it even exists, lest it be taken away. Soldiers based at the Kajaki Forward Operating Base in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province will say they are there to protect an important hydropower plant that, once completed, will provide the surrounding provinces with more than half their electricity needs. But to them the real prize lies half a kilometer upstream, where a massive dam, completed in 1953, holds back the crystalline waters of one of the largest reservoirs in Afghanistan.

The Kajaki dam and the lake that laps at its 330-ft.-high (100 m) berm is a sublime example of the beauty that can be achieved when man partners with nature. In the far distance golden hills blend into the sapphire waters with bands of green. At the mouth of the dam sheer granite walls rear up. It is here that the soldiers, when free from their duties, dare each other into acts of escalating bravery by leaping from the cliffs into the water. They wear their running shoes as they jump, the better to scramble back up the cliffs for yet more audacious aerial assaults. The water is warmed by the sun, but still refreshing in the desert heat that come summer can reach 113°F (45°C). Those leaps are forbidden by commanding officers, but for soldiers denied almost every other pleasure during the conduct of war, it's a risk worth taking.