US pulls out of two Nuristan outposts, hands Taliban propaganda victory

Six days after the deadly battle in the Kamdish district in Nuristan, the US military has withdrawn from the two combat outposts that were attacked. From an ISAF press release:

ISAF forces have completed their repositioning from two combat outposts (Combat Outposts Keating and Fritsche) in Kamdesh district, Nuristan province, to other areas in eastern Afghanistan.

The two outposts were attacked by militants on Oct. 3 from multiple firing positions in the steep valley. ISAF forces on the ground assisted by close air support and attack helicopters fought the militants ultimately securing the outposts and killing an estimated 100 insurgents during the battle.

Despite Taliban claims, the movement of troops and equipment from the outposts are a part of a previously scheduled transfer. The remote outposts were established as part of a previous security strategy to stop or prevent the flow of militants into the region.

In line with General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency guidance to pursue a population-centric strategy, ISAF commanders decided last month to reposition forces from remote areas with smaller population densities to population centers within the region. Commanders developed plans for the repositioning; however, as in every conflict, plans’ timelines may shift to accommodate conditions on the ground and developing security priorities.

Commanders have not discussed specific movements before their completion to ensure the security of ISAF and Afghan forces as well as Afghan civilians in affected areas.

According to ABC News and the Coffeypot blog, Keating was nearly destroyed during the attack.

Make no mistake, the US withdrawal from these two outposts so quickly after the attack is a major propaganda victory for the Taliban, al Qaeda, and HIG. The withdrawal from the valley will also hand the terror groups an uncontested stretch of terrain that extends into their bases in Chitral in Pakistan.

The Taliban claimed they flew their flag in Kamdish earlier this week, which the US military later denied. If the Taliban didn’t fly it then, they will now. Wait for the videotape. This will be a victory the terror groups will savor all winter.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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9 Comments

  • Ayamo says:

    “The remote outposts were established as part of a previous security strategy to stop or prevent the flow of militants into the region.”
    Is it me or didn’t this work out very well?!?

  • Tyler says:

    They knew McChrystal intended to pull out of the area. Thats why they attacked the base. Knowing that either they’d get a propaganda victory once we’d left, or a tactical victory having forced us to change course from his population-centric strategy and commit troops to a sparsely populated region.
    We inflicted a heavy toll on the attacking force, rescued almost all of the police hostages they took, and no doubt put Dost Mohammed a few rungs higher on the CIA’s capture/kill list. Lets move on and stick to the game plan.

  • zotz says:

    This reminds me of a mini-Khesanh, fight an enormous battle and then leave. The mistake is not withdrawl from Outpost Keating. The mistake was announcing the withdrawl in advance. That is an invitation for the enemy to attack.

  • F says:

    I’m not sure about the Khe Sanh ref. That battle was aimed at fixing US forces in the middle of nowhere prior to Tet. Kamdesh, by contrast, is the end result of 50 raids that look like reconnaissance in force probes, pinpointing defensive positions, picking out reserve/ quick reaction force routes and composition, timing aerial/artillery response etc, and culminating with one spectacular event designed to maximize propagada value from a telegraphed localised US withdrawal. This doesn’t look like a feint or supporting effort to something larger.
    From a US perspective, not much would have been gained from staying in Khe Sanh. Similarly, pulling out of Kamdesh may (before the attack) have been the smartest thing to do. It may still be (I don’t know enough details of the region to be able to say otherwise) – but staying now just for the sake of staying doesn’t sound especially smart either – assuming the withdrawal is part of a well thought out reallocation of resources.
    Where ISAF has really fallen flat here is in conceding the info ops campaign. Can you imagine Coke not fighting against Mecca Cola’s efforts to gain market share? We need to develop some more subtle messaging in the region.

  • Civy says:

    Aside from the particulars of the battle, the new strategy is unwise imo. I conducted a Google safari and found that 77% of the Iraqi population lives in urban areas, and ~ 30% of the Afghan population.
    Worse still, if you can secure the 5-6 largest cities in Iraq, you have won 50% of the country. Because there are only 2-3 major population centers in Afghanistan, and the population distribution is much more homogeneous, you’d only be protecting about 15% of the population of Afghanistan with such a strategy.
    Recall that the first step in the Iraqi surge was getting control of a ring of area around Baghdad which had been used as a staging area for terrorist activities, and IED and suicide bombing in particular. The equivalent staging area in the Afghan theater is the entire rural countryside and lawless tribal areas along the Afghan-Paki border.
    Given this, how will a clear-hold-build strategy work without such firebases closing down the boarder area and offering all-weather

  • Dan A says:

    Civy:
    I understand what you’re saying, and you are right, it’s not just the population centers that need to be contested. For example, Kabul was under threat from nearby provinces (and still is when it comes to suicide bombing), and just protecting Taliban, but once the Kabul was secure enough, you can then go into Wardak, or Logar. So for example, with Kandahar, it makes no sense trying to secure the perriferal village when you can hardly protect Kandahar. It DOES make sense however to conduct raids to clear the area, take down key leaders, IED cells, etc. Once Kandahar is reasonably protected, you can then try to the hold and build part in the periphery.
    Nuristan, however, makes no sense to try to occupy, except perhaps on strategic roads and valleys that lead into it in order to isolate the area. Nuristan has no large population centers and no particular strategic value.

  • Neo says:

    Outpost Keating
    35 25 23N , 71 19 44E
    Here it is. Google away.
    If your expecting the likes of Khe Sanh, you’re going to be disappointed. This is more like a really bad location for an outhouse. The village itself is higher up on the northeast side of the ridge.

  • Civy says:

    Why Nuristan matters: //easterncampaign.wordpress.com/2008/07/13/why-nuristan-matters/
    Yeah, Keating seems like a poorly chosen location for anything that needs defending. Defending the low ground is pretty dismal.

  • bobk says:

    “If your expecting the likes of Khe Sanh, you’re going to be disappointed. This is more like a really bad location for an outhouse. The village itself is higher up on the northeast side of the ridge”
    I have thought that about a few combat outposts I have seen in videos from that area of afganistan. In fact one or 2 from Bills archives I think. Bothers the heck out me for many reasons not the least of which that is my sons current location. These guys were his BCT and they cover the whole eastern area of Afgan around Kyber and above. While I get the dilema with this instance, if no real purpose for the combat post put the guys at one more strategicly important.
    looking at this map, Nuristan, doesnt seem as important as the Konegall valley and kabul river valley’s through Jalalabad to packistan border
    //www.aims.org.af/maps/national/routh_maps/road_network/road_network.pdf

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