COP Honaker Miracle in Kunar

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 5 months ago

While the President and generals debate, the grunts still do the heavy work in the South (Marines in Now Zad, Marjah, Sangin and other locales), and remote outposts in the East.  USA Today has a must read on COP Honaker Miracle in the Kunar Province that gives us a view to the still salient importance of chasing the enemy into his sanctuaries.

COMBAT OUTPOST HONAKER MIRACLE, Kunar province, Afghanistan — Sgt. Lawrence Teza was in his barracks when the door was ripped open by an explosion, spraying his left side with shrapnel and breaking his hand.

“When the bombing started I was counting all my men … then wham!” he recalled from his hospital bed hours later.

Teza, along with Spc. Mathew Standford, who was peppered with shards from the metal door, joined the growing ranks of the wounded at this remote combat outpost in Afghanistan’s restive Pech River Valley in Kunar province, which borders Pakistan.

Since deploying in late April to this small base nestled among jagged mountains, small farms and mud-brick villages, about 10% of the U.S. troops here have been injured by Taliban mortars, small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices.

“We’ve had a lot of guys get hurt, but we have a tough AO (area of operations),” said Capt. Brian Kalaher, commander of the outpost, which was named after two servicemembers killed in action.

Much of the attention over the past year has been on southern Afghanistan, where thousands of U.S. reinforcements have been deployed and have pushed the Taliban from former strongholds in a visible effort to regain the momentum.

Here in the Pech Valley, U.S. and Afghan forces are fighting an “economy of force” mission, holding the line against the Taliban while building the capability of Afghan security forces.

It’s part of a broad coalition strategy to concentrate forces in main population centers and to scale back in remote areas. Until recently, Combat Outpost Honaker Miracle was one of four U.S. bases along the Pech, a region that was previously occupied by a battalion, Kalaher said. Battalions are typically 600 to 700 troops. Over the winter, several of the bases were turned over to the Afghan army and another U.S. position — Combat Outpost Michigan — was closed and razed.

In previous years even smaller bases were scattered deeper in remote valleys off the Pech.

The troops here at Honaker Miracle have received a regular barrage of attacks, more than a dozen in less than two months, some lasting several hours.

During one attack, a mortar round hit a crane used to tow disabled armored vehicles and set it ablaze, reducing the vital piece of equipment to a charred hulk.

“They tested us during the first part of the deployment, a lot in May,” said Kalaher from his office where an all-white Taliban flag, removed from a nearby mountainside, hangs from the ceiling. “We set a precedent that we are not afraid to shoot back.”

Following the recent attack injuring Teza and Standford, airstrikes obliterated a nearby fighting position, reportedly killing at least two Taliban fighters.

Plenty of hidden crevices and caves dotting the mountains make effective retaliation difficult. The hardscrabble terrain and a largely unseen enemy fighting from mountainside positions makes for a daunting mission, in general.

“When we first got here it was night, so we couldn’t see what was around us,” said Cpl. Ian Beard, who was injured during the first few weeks of their deployment, taking shrapnel to his arm, leg and his lip. “When we woke up the next morning and saw all the mountains around us, it was intimidating. You feel like people (in the mountains) are looking at you all the time.”

The proximity of enclaves of Afghans surrounding the outpost adds to the difficulty. The prospect of civilian casualties weighs heavily on soldiers trying to win over a populace that is largely on the fence in their loyalties.

Platoons of troops regularly patrol nearby villages on foot and interact with the local populace in hopes of winning their trust and gaining intelligence on Taliban movements in the area.

According to local leaders, the Taliban has set up impromptu checkpoints along the roadways and even donned Afghan soldier and police uniforms to “rough up the locals,” Lt. Matt Snyder said.

Haji Ajab Khan, district sub-governor, claimed that the residents of the Pech oppose the Taliban “but can’t do anything to stop them.”

I submit the following.  First, I am sick of hearing about “economy of force” efforts.  Second, not only should these boys not have been afraid to shoot, they shouldn’t have been afraid to chase the enemy into the hills.  Third, winning the population with more patrols should take on secondary or tertiary importance to killing the Taliban.  Fourth, if the Taliban feel the freedom of movement to set up checkpoints, we are losing.  Bring in more troops and chase them and kill them … all of them.  No negotiations.  Sit snipers in the hills waiting for the checkpoints, and then rain death from above when the try to bully the population.  They must all die.

  • http://firstcontactproject.org/ Warbucks

    Last night was “senior’s enter free night” at the Alameda County Fair out here on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. My wife and I strolled through the entry gate, walked in, found an early perfect seat in the shade to a free Charlie Daniels performance : http://www.charliedaniels.com/.

    Even here on the left coast, Charlie got a standing ovation with cheering applause when he hit the lyric ” ….let’m win or bring’em home.”

    The official, full hitch, Budweiser Clydesdales with silver polished trees and picture perfect dog and driver http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budweiser_Clydesdales sponsored the event so the beer was plentiful.

    It seem to be a straw pole of life in America in some way.

  • http://roger29palms@copper.net Roger Smith

    Chase the taliban? How about waddle after them, considering all the weight our troops carry.
    And it seems to me, based on the uncountable articles I have read over the years, that the show the flag patrols that the troops undertake have two factors in their favor; information on ied placement, and taliban locations. As in Vietnam, as in rabbitt hunting, you beat the bush to find your quarry.

  • DirtyMick

    They don’t have the man power to chase the bad guys. Honaker-miracle is on the north side of the pechora river and from when I was there most attacks came from the southside of the river. But with blessing, Michigan, and I’m also assuming able-main closed H-M is pretty much the Alamo. If the milita wants to proceed like this in kunar they might as well turn it over to the Taliban

  • jean

    DM,

    Is HONAKER MIRACLE what we referred to as Combat Main? West of the village of DAG and before you cross IED cliff? Or is it the COP at Matin. We should start a website for COP name changes. Very confusing. I am sure that “Big Army” will generate some meaningful regulations to address this confusing issue of renaming COPs or add a chapter to the COIN manual.

  • DirtMick

    I think combat main is able main and if I remember right HM is IVO matin. I’m just wondering why they have even bothered to keep it open. Lets say there is a Rifle Company there and assuming there under strength… you have squad or two on gate and tower guard, a platoon patrolling, a platoon on QRF, and take into account guys wounded and on leave… how you can you be effective?

  • jean

    I thought that HM might be closer to Waterpor

    They never had enough troops at any of those COPs and they would surge in plain sight just prior to any operation. During Mountain Lion 2006, they even had a real patrol base in the Shuryac Valley (south of Matin) bad guy country, they committed to maintaining a presence “south ” of the river, but it couldn’t be supported, so they pulled out. Some key local Afghans were murdered a week after we pulled out and their families forced to relocate out of Pech Valley.

    We should level about 5 select villages in Pech/Korengal on our way out. Give 24 notice for them clear out, tell them its our tribal code/version of American Pashtu wali-

  • DirtyMick

    Matin and Tantil would be perfect. Especially Matin

  • Šťoural

    Useful map Pech Valley http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/02/25/world/25afghanmap.html?ref=asia

    New operation in Watapur Valley,just to the north of COP Honaker Miracle.
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/afghanistan/2011-06-27-forces-target-afghanistan-insurgents_n.htm

    3 US KIA,30 US WIA&maybe shot down Chinook….IMHO SNAFU

  • jean

    S- thanks, great map- I still have my 1-50 taped together from the Peche. So HM is in Watapor. We had a VCB on the high ground north of the Peche for about a month. Chinook- Damn, thats a hard bird to shoot down. Those guys are in my prayers. Hope the weather holds for CAS. We had monsoon rains in June/July. We lost a Blackhawk in 2008 in the valley that runs north west in Watapur. There were reports of a large training camp on the east side of the that valley- never found it. The terrain is pretty rugged. That entire area feeds into Shigal

    Mick- No lost love for those turds in Matin.

  • Šťoural

    Last sitrep Operation Hammer Down II (Watapur Valley)
    http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/2011/07/01/combined-operation-kills-100-insurgents-in-eastern-afghanistan/

    Throughout the mission, coalition forces sustained four killed in action and 18 wounded in action.
    Coalition Soldiers from 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force Bronco, partnered with Afghan National Army troops and air-assaulted into high ground surrounding the valley. Heavy insurgent fire began the next morning and continued for four days.
    “This operation achieved its planned end-state,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chad Carroll, public affairs director for Regional Command-East. “Afghan and coalition security forces decisively disrupted the enemy in the Pech and Watahpur Valleys.”

    Interesting quotation USA Today Jun 27:”We’re trying to kill every terrorist in the area,” said Maj. Pat Stitch, brigade operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
    Stitch said the hope is that the Afghan army can “hold what we cleared” and patrol a region that has been dominated by insurgents from both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/afghanistan/2011-06-27-forces-target-afghanistan-insurgents_n.htm

  • G

    To Jean and DirtyMick
    COP Michigan was just east of Tantil and West of Matin and is closed.
    COP Able-Main was 7 to 8km east of Matin IVO Dag and Shegezay and is closed.
    COP Honaker-Miracle was the eastern-most COP in the valley, but now is the only and western most COP in the valley, but it is more of a FOB than a COP in terms of size. Also they have a good deal of stand off from the mountains compared to what Able-Main and Michigan had

  • Jean

    G

    Thanks for the update, I found a CNN clip that had good shot of COP Honaker-Miracle, which looks like its close to the District Center in Waterpur. That is a good spot. You can almost see Shudergay the villiage to the south, the scene of a spectular feats of courage in 2007:

    http://militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=3882
    3 silver stars
    mulitble purple hearts
    and some payback for lost friends
    There is some history in that valley.

  • Šťoural

    only headline:Six months after pullback, U.S. goes back in to contest Pech Valley

    http://www.stripes.com/news/six-months-after-pullback-u-s-goes-back-in-to-contest-pech-valley-1.151170

  • PFC shore

    yeah im still here on HM and as for chasing the taliban into the hills we cant because of the terrain and the weight we couldnt get close enough to the base of the mountains without getting shot by the snipers and idiots with machineguns… and as for killing the taliban… WE DO… its what we do even if we cant engauge with our personal weapons as much as we’d like we still lay indirect fires on the enemy or we have air assets light them up from above… lastly if you wanna sit a sniper team or anything to try and stop the enemy checkpoints stop and think about the dynamics of it all… we cant roll out in small teams because of the civilians that call their taliban friends and let them know when where and how many of us roll out and even if we got our guys there how long can they effectively engauge before they are spotted and then you have X number of taliban gunning for our guys while we try to get our QRF out there to keep them breathing and you might say “well just put more guys out there…” its hard enough to get up those mountains undetected in small groups if you have a 20 man patrol how long before they spot us while we try to set in? This war isnt going to be won by just killing the enemy we need to get the populace on our side and get them to fight with us

  • JJM

    to jean,
    Honacker-Miracle is a new based built by 2-503d next to the Watapor DC. It was supposed to replace several smaller bases including Able/Combat Main, which is to the west of H-M. But Able Main stayed open, at least until Us forces began withdrawing from the Pech. It probably is still open under the ANA. Blessintg is sitll open as well, although it is now Camp Nangalam under the ANA.

  • Doc

    Sir,
    While I agree being aggressive is key, I must take a second to step you back.

    First, this is not Vietnam. I hate to mention it, but we lost that war. Going completely kinetic is not the answer.

    For instance you comment about placing snipers to kill taliban teams sent to harass the population… It seems like a sound tactic, until you look at the facts. You’re leaving two guys out there alone, no support for miles, and air that can’t get to them quick enough… In a land that’s owned by the enemy, much like the VC. You’re talking about extremely high risk for extreme low pay off. For every man we kill, another takes his place. And say we put them out there as spotters… how are they supposed to bomb taliban with civilians present? These people know when we are there. They ALWAYS know when we are there. They’ve been fighting wars in these mountains for 2,500 years.

    Second, you comment about chasing the enemy into the hills. Is this not exactly what they want? You want us to send a platoon of infantry after an elusive enemy into land they own and terrain we don’t understand much better than what we see on the map… Chase the rabbit. To what end? Sure we may get some kills. We will likely take casualties in the process. And theirs will be replaced in hours. What’s an army medic worth compared to a 16 year old afghan fighter? Who comes out ahead? Remember, all they have to do to win is keep killing us.

    Sir, my point. The new Army, the new military, concentrates on non-kinetic activity. This is the stuff that wins the new campaigns. We must provide security, supplies, money, peace of mind to the people… when the population has these things, they will side against our enemies, and we will win. Until then, we must do our best to keep the enemy at bay, because we cannot defeat him completely. We must continue to support the peaceful missions vital to our success… And however much we want to, we must refrain from “going hot” every time we hear a shot or see a man go down. It does nothing for us.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    You want to step me back? Uh huh.

    Quite a doctrinaire sermon you preached. Say, why don’t you do something for me.

    You said “For every man we kill, another takes his place, and “Sure we may get some kills. We will likely take casualties in the process. And theirs will be replaced in hours.”

    I think you’re just making that up. So the assertion is that for every fighter we kill, another one pops up, and that, within hours.

    Prove it. Don’t cite doctrine at me. Prove it.

  • carl

    Doc:

    First off, I have no military experience and have never been to Afghanistan, so judge my comment as you will.

    I understand your point but if I were a villager, I would not help you unless I could be pretty certain I would not get my throat cut for doing so. I would have to be certain the Taliban would be afraid to come after me if I helped you. i would have to see some evidence that you could protect me and provide security and peace of mind as you say. The best evidence that you could protect me would be some dead Taliban, especially dead ones nearby. Money and supplies would mean nothing to me unless I was damn sure you could keep me from being killed. i would gladly take them, smile and say thank you and not tell you a damn thing.

    Ultimately, you would have to show me that you are winning before I stuck my neck out. The simplest and most striking way to show me that would be dead Taliban and Taliban who are afraid to come after me because they don’t want to die. None of the other stuff will matter unless you can show me.

    On a historical note. It is not wise to disregard lessons of past wars because of the final outcome. People learned a lot from the German army even though they lost WWII. Ironically one of the forces that learned the most from them was the Israeli army. They were wise enough to learn from whomever had something useful to teach, regardless of who they were. Just about everything that could be learned about small unit fighting, ambushes, patrolling etc. was learned by us and allied forces in Vietnam. When you have the chance, investigate it a little. You might find something you could use. It would be shame if those lessons learned at such cost so long ago were forgotten.

  • rdodd1820

    Hey I deploying to this region and was wanting to gian any information about this COP Honaker Miracle. We are coming as FA on the M777. Any information anyone could provide would be great like phone service, internet, living accomidations, or things to expect. Thanks in advance

  • DirtyMick

    Dude I think phone service, internet, living accomidations should be the least of your worries. You’re going to the Pech River Valley.

    1. They have cell towers in Kunar. Get a cheap Roshan Phone in bagram
    2. You’ll most likely be living in a squad Bay.
    3. This is the most important… You will be doing fire missions everyday and your COP will most likely get a direct attack multiple times a day.

    Check the sidebar on here and pull up Kunar Province read those articles. Good luck you’re going to need it.

  • rdodd1820

    Thanks for the information. I am well aware of the attacks and action this region sees. We are not sure if this is the COP my section will be at. Bostsc, Salarno, Clark, Fortress, and Ghazni are possible places we could be at. Any word on these FOBs.

  • DirtyMick

    Bostic is up in Nuristan which is a rough area and Fortress is in Kunar about two klicks south of abad.

  • motherwendy

    my son is at FOB Joyce and has been requested to go to HM within next 30 days to replace a casualty. i see no new articles about who is running the OP now or what has been going on there since the last deployment. how big is HM (compared to Restrepo vs. Joyce – he’s been on both)? any info would be great. i’m not feeling good about this move at all.

  • motherwendy

    Also – can anyone tell me which district in Kunar that HM is located?

  • Jean

    Watupur – its in the Pech Valley about 10KM from ABAD.

  • Thomas bricker

    i was there 2011 aug to dec liked it other than all the sniper IDF fire every other day. but still served three hot meals a day.

  • oldfatslow

    My son was at H-M 2011-12. Here’s a story he told me from Operation Hammerdown.

    http://oldfatslowland.blogspot.com/2011/07/dandruff-goat.html


You are currently reading "COP Honaker Miracle in Kunar", entry #7168 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Kunar Province,Pech River Valley and was published June 24th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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