A US Army soldier assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, engages the enemy during a patrol near Combat Outpost Honaker Miracle in Kunar province, Afghanistan, on July 29, 2009. US Army photo by Evan Marcy.
I’ve received some criticism for noting that the US withdrawal from remote outposts in the Korengal Valley (as well as from other remote bases in Kunar and Nuristan in eastern Afghanistan) has been a major mistake. My position has been that these locations, as difficult as they can be to defend, keep the Taliban at bay and at the least allow the US to maintain a presence in these areas and prevent the Taliban and al Qaeda from fully controlling these areas [see here, here, and here for examples on the Korengal Valley]. Without US forces in these areas, the pressure is off the Taliban and their Pakistani and al Qaeda allies, and they will be free to launch attacks deeper into Afghanistan. Also, the US withdrawal from these bases gives the Taliban a propaganda coup just when the US needs to show it is committed to remaining in Afghanistan and taking the fight to the Taliban.
The conventional wisdom in many circles is that the bases are too far flung and difficult to defend, that the bases are in strategically insignificant locations, and that if we’d just withdraw from these areas, the insurgency would burn out as the US presence is the driving force for local hostility.
This must-read article at Stars and Stripes supports the first half of my argument: not only have the Taliban now established safe havens in the Korengal, they are using these bases to extend their strikes. Combat Outpost Michigan, which sits at the opening of the Korengal Valley, is now bearing the brunt of the Taliban attacks:
Michigan is attacked so frequently now that soldiers at the other three Pech River Valley bases, who all have heavy fights on their hands, grimace when they hear that Michigan is a visitor’s destination.
In most places in Afghanistan, soldiers who stay inside the wire, meaning behind the base walls, are usually considered on safer ground. At Michigan, “sometimes guys feel like they are safer outside the wire,” said Capt. Dakota Steedsman, commander of Company D.
Soldiers spend 80 percent of their time just defending the base or reacting to attacks from the surrounding mountain walls, a far cry from the focus on counterinsurgency and governance in other parts of the country.
Many of the buildings have the scars of recent repairs after taking direct hits from incoming fire, among them the brand new shower building with a gaping hole in its ceiling. Its 14 showers will remain unused until they can reinforce it.
And later in the article:
Steedsman said he sees coordination among different groups of fighters. Some battalion officers say that is a direct result of the pullout from the Korengal, because it gave the Taliban a free safe haven to set up a command center where there once was an American post.
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