1 year, 6 months ago
From the Chicago Tribune, and this will require extensive citation, but it’s well worth it.
“Welcome to Combat Outpost Pirtle-King. Here we only move around at night. If you must move in daytime, make sure you stay close in against the northern walls, as most attacks come from there,” he says. “If you must move in the open, do it at a run.”
NATO commanders cite security gains, eleven years in the war, ahead of a 2014 withdrawal by most foreign combat troops, but there are still pockets like this, where the insurgent threat is so potent that U.S. soldiers can barely move.
COP Pirtle-King, or PK, is a low collection of rockfill walls, trenches and camouflage net, built to help secure the sole road running through the strategic Kunar River Valley and intersect insurgent supply routes from Pakistan.
But the forested mountains on both sides provide perfect cover for the insurgents, including a persistent sniper whose aim has been steadily getting closer to the handful of U.S. and Afghan troops here.
Faced with the threat of so-called plunging fire, soldiers have adjusted routines to carry out most tasks at night, apart from sporadic daytime patrols and manning a trio of guard towers where guns angle up to point high into the rocks above.
When not filling sandbags and extending their walls or doing vehicle maintenance in darkness, they sleep through the daytime heat or just read books and talk within the dusty walkways inside the walls, waiting to repel the next attack.
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Dushman shoots from somewhere on a green spur known as “the finger”, above curved hills known as “A Cup” and “C Cup”, but only vaguely similar to breasts. Sometimes fire comes from both sides of the valley, from the south and north.
“That kind of crossfire is usually a sign it’s not Taliban, but more likely Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin. They’re a bit more together,” says Danison. “We have pushed them back into the hills though. They used to fire from pretty much right in front.”
U.S. troops in full body armor run across the central vehicle park and any open area to reach their rooms or shift between fortified positions, and use the exposed wooden latrines and showers at their own risk.
“If you have to go, we recommend you wait until night,” Danison says. “Here at Pirtle-King, we’re pretty much in a fishbowl, so we typically operate at night. It just mitigates any exposure during the day.”
In a cluster of small rooms more like a submarine than a ground base, as many as 15 soldiers sleep in bunks stacked four high against a plywood wall marked outside by a target drawn where a Taliban rocket grenade hit but did not detonate.
“Bet you can’t do it again,” reads a sign spray-painted in black. A double-head axe on the wall is called the “Alamo Axe”, in a dark-humored reference to last ditch defense in the unlikely case the Taliban ever tried to overrun the post.
Pirtle-King, named after two soldiers killed at a smaller observation post near here in 2009, is one of a handful of bases here due to be shut down as U.S. troops withdraw from the area and handover to Afghan forces in the Kunar Valley.
Battalion Commander Lt-Col Scott Green says Kunar will make the transition successfully, as Afghan security forces were making strong improvements, including running the majority of patrols beyond the walls of Pirtle-King.
This is simply remarkable. So here are some questions. Does the Army send its Soldiers through the equivalent of Marine Corps School of Infantry, where land navigation, map reading, small unit maneuver and other aspects of warfare are learned? Does the Army continue this training when the Soldier is deployed to his unit (what the Marines would call a fleet Marine)? So, for example, do Soldiers know how to use night vision, and use that equipment to conduct room clearing operations and night time small unit maneuvers?
If you answered yes to any of the questions above, then the following question is salient. Why are the Soldiers sitting in the COP? What a field grade officer (or staff level officer) should have done for the work-up for this deployment is rehearse every one of those things, and live out in the field for most of the work-up.
The next step would be to dispatch small teams of two, three or four Soldiers (what in the Marine Corps would be a fire team) in distributed operations until the COP was emptied out except for a replacement platoon, until the head of that sniper was brought to the CO on a stick. Of course, he would need the weapon too in order to do ballistic matching and other forensics. Then, patrols through the valley should be ubiquitous and non-stop to show the population that U.S. Soldiers do not hide in COPs from enemy snipers.
But then, such a field grade or staff officer probably wouldn’t last very long. Making time. That’s all these Soldiers are doing. Punching their time cards. And it isn’t their fault. The strategy is unseemly and even immoral because it places Soldier’s lives at risk to do little more than make time.
Here’s hoping that they make their time and come home safely. No one wants to be the last man out. As for this area of Kunar, the sniper will make easy work of the ANA.