Donkeys replace gas guzzlers

Associated Press
Published August 14, 2005

KANDAGAL, Afghanistan - Frustrated with the limitations of using its fleet of modern Humvee four-wheel-drives in rugged mountains with few roads, a battalion of U.S. Marines has enlisted a mode of transport used for centuries by Afghans: donkeys.

About 30 of the animals have been rented from local farmers to haul food and bottled water to hundreds of Afghan and U.S. troops on a two-week operation to battle militants deep in remote mountains in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province.

"With all the smart bombs and the modern stuff in war nowadays, this is the best way for us to resupply our troops there," said Lt. Col. Jim Donnellan, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, which is based in Hawaii. "It's also much cheaper for the U.S. taxpayer for us to rent the donkeys than for everything to be air-dropped."

The operation, which began Friday, is aimed at flushing fighters out of the valley and U.S. commanders are nervous about risking choppers.

From a temporary resupply base in a cornfield at one end of Korengal Valley, where the militants are suspected of hiding, squads of Marines with heavy packs on their own backs led out lines of donkeys, each laden with two boxes of water, a box of food rations and a sack of grain.

While each Marine carried enough food and water for themselves for two days, the donkeys gave each squad supplies for an extra 48 hours. Before coming to Afghanistan, some of the troops received training in handling donkeys at the Marines' Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., said Capt. John Moshane.

Still, the donkeys' refusal to cooperate and their determination to try to mate whenever they were untied frustrated their handlers. When one Marine slapped one of the animals on the rump in exasperation, the donkey promptly gave him a sharp kick.