In the Arena

Pir Mohammed School Update

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As regular readers know, in April, I chronicled the efforts of Captain Jeremiah Ellis and his troops to reopen the Pir Mohammed School, which had been closed and booby-trapped by the Taliban, in the crucial Kandahar Province town of Senjaray.

Ellis and Dog Company shipped out in early June. (He’s now on leave, on safari in Africa.) His unit was replaced by the famed Black Hearts battalion of the 101st airborne, subject of an excellent book by my colleague Jim Frederick.

Recently, my friend Jim Maceda of NBC News–a pro’s pro I bump into almost every time I go to Afghanistan–decided to check out the situation in Senjaray. He sent me this report:

Hi Joe,

Thanks for getting back. I’m now in Zhari – and embedded with the infamous Black Hearts in Senjaray (where there’s hot showers and freezing air-con who wudda thunk?)  The 1-502’s Battalion Commander LTC Johnny Davis says the school remains one of his key tasks, while Capt Ellis’ counterpart, a mature-beyond-his-years Company Commander named Nick Stout – who swapped out with Ellis – picks up the story in late May….

Stout says he tried to immediately launch renovations on the school he inherited because he ‘really got’ Ellis’ vision of what the Pir Mohammed school could bring to Senjaray, and the counter-insurgency effort. But the school was already severely damaged and his guys had to ‘work thru layers of IED’s’ just to start rebuilding. After some of the worker-soldiers were hit – some killed – by Taliban snipers LTC Davis shut down the site and ordered Capt Stout to ‘go local’.  Stout placed his snipers on the roof and in the guard towers of the Senjaray military base. He then built a ‘strong point’ on the approach road to the school and filled it with Afghan police. When the frequency of attacks began to drop off, US soldiers returned to work.  As of this writing the school is again in its old (new) pristine shape but the 1-502 isn’t giving it back just yet. First it’s completing a SECOND building – right next door – for the ANP, which, by The First Day of School, after the September elections, should provide decent security for the school.  But Jeremiah Ellis’ dream of a secure and functioning Pir Mohammed School may still be facing some hurdles – the reality is that, since the surge of US troops here, the area just south of the school has become a war zone. Just this week, my Fox News colleagues were caught up in a major fire-fight while out on foot patrol only hundreds of yards from the school’s facade. And, for now, the Pir Mohammed School functions, in fact, as the Pir Mohammed Combat Outpost.

We’ll go back and shoot the school with Stout tomorrow when a fresh platoon takes up its position inside the erstwhile school…But since Pir Mohammed won’t open until September – and the real ‘money shot’ will be all the attendant kids – I’ll sit on it and try to return as well in September to finish the story.



Thanks, Jim. Safe travels. Please convey my best regards to Captain Stout. And I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other over there before long.