3 years, 10 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.