Yesterday, President Obama said he wanted Afghans to take over combat duties here by 2014. Today I had the privilege of meeting one of the men who could help make that happen. Lt. Faiz Ramaki is a pilot with Afghanistan’s air force. He was an interpreter for the U.S. military in the early years of the war, and then was accepted for pilot training in the United States. Until recently the Afghan air force consisted mostly of Russian-made helicopters. Recently, they acquired a handful of used C-27 cargo transports from Italy. This morning I went up in one of the Afghan planes on a mission to make a low-level parachute drop of critical supplies to a forward operating base near Jalalabad. Two American pilots were up front and Lt. Faiz Mohammad was running the checklist in the third cockpit seat. The Americans are part of an advisory squadron teaching the Afghans some of the things they will need to operate independently. Eventually, Lt. Ramaki will command his own aircraft, with a full Afghan crew. As we flew into the drop zone at just one thousand feet above the ground, the rear ramp opened, and the pallets of supplies fell into our slipstream. It was exciting to watch, but the best part was seeing Lt. Ramaki pump his first and let out a satisfying whoop. We will show you more on tonight's broadcast.
Now to answer some of the questions you've passed along. Margret Ware wants to know where the reporters are staying. In Kabul we have a bureau with our own sleeping quarters. However when covering the military it depends on where we are. At Camp Leatherneck with the Marines we stayed in sleeping bags in a tent. In Kandahar I slept in a modest dormitory type arrangement with four bunk beds. And here at Bagram Air Field I'm sharing guest quarters with Richard Engel (one of us snores, by the way).
Sandra Jones Hall asked about troop morale. It's hard to characterize for 130,000 troops but I can tell you the marines, airmen, and soldiers I've spoken to seem very positive and very committed to each other. One airman told me I was the first person outside his unit he had spoken to in 5 months, so many are surprised when I tell them the war is not on the top of mind anymore for a lot of Americans. I might add they take losses very hard. The crews with the Air Force Combat Search and Rescue squadron I flew with the other day have just come off a very bad couple of days in which they transported over 50 casualties from a battle in Eastern Afghanistan. Six of those they transported were killed in action. Their pain is apparent but it doesn't weaken their resolve. Please don't forget them. See you tonight from the 101st Airborne headquarters at Bagram.