Return To Nuristan – Only To Leave Again

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 6 months ago

An informative report from Reuters:

U.S. troops returned to the area in Afghanistan they call the “dark side of the moon” this week, a remote Hindu Kush region that controls several access routes to Kabul and where the coalition suffered one of its biggest reverses in the decade-long war.

This part of Nuristan province, in the mountainous far east of Afghanistan, could be the target of a planned Taliban offensive, coalition commanders say.

Carrying “speedballs” – black body bags packed with mortars, ammunition and heavy machine guns – a company of U.S. soldiers landed by helicopter on a narrow ridge and trudged up to a tiny Afghan army post overlooking icy peaks and plunging river valleys, as hostile as breathtaking.

With U.S. intelligence pointing to a possible attack by as many as 1,800 Taliban, the soldiers set up weapons over a backyard-sized square, while Afghan army soldiers in camouflage and plastic sandals pointed out fires and torchlight in the distance in the chill night air.

“We’ll get some eyes overhead to check it out. If it’s Taliban, we’ll get a plane up in the morning and drop a bomb on it,” said U.S. Major Jared Bordwell as some of his men from the 1-12 Infantry Regiment dropped down in the dust and tried to get some sleep.

American soldiers withdrew from Nuristan, or the “land of light”, after around 300 insurgents overran an isolated combat outpost near Kamdesh village – below where Bordwell’s men were huddled – on October 3, 2009, killing eight soldiers and wounding 22.

The former U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, decided in 2010 to give up remote combat outposts and shift American troops to protect larger population centers.

But it was through here that the Taliban shifted men and weapons for a suicide assault on Kabul’s diplomatic and government quarter in April, circling beyond the reach of U.S. and Afghan army positions to the south in neighboring Kunar province, coalition commanders say.

Stanley McChrystal managed the campaign for just over one year, what we should refer to as “the lost months.”  During this time the Kunar and Nuristan provinces, and all along the Hindu Kush, were left to the Taliban and allied fighters to retrain, regroup, recruit, and raise support, while he played population-centric counterinsurgency in the cities.  The attack on Kabul is minor and had little effect on the city.  And that specific attack will be small compared to the effect these provinces will have on Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves.  Another way of saying this is that the media using the Kabul attack as some sort of benchmark is both mistaken and frightening.  It will get much worse.  Continuing:

With Nuristan now a Taliban staging post and haven, the province is a vital pocket for U.S. forces based in Kunar, with only a few hundred Afghan soldiers and police over an area of 5,800 square km.

“Nuristan remains for me a challenge, a black hole. My line in the sand stops at the Kunar and Nuristan borders,” said Lt-Colonel Scott Green, a wiry former Ranger who oversees Nuristan.

But he will not be in the region for long – NATO troops are due to be withdrawn from north Kunar by October. Green and his men, who are based in Kunar and in Nuristan temporarily, will be among those withdrawn.

So his reduced-strength 1st battalion has to counter insurgents while simultaneously building Afghan capability and “retrograding” – closing up U.S. bases – all within months.

It is one of the most hostile areas in war-torn Afghanistan in a landscape that is equally hostile. Taliban and al Qaeda fighters pass through easily, from either Pakistan or from bases located out of easy NATO reach inside a 4 km-wide border buffer zone.

As many as 2,500 Taliban are thought to be in the province, controlling most districts, and around 300 are foreign, mostly Pakistanis or Chechens, Afghan commanders say.

The insurgents control what few roads there are and have three ways to move deeper into Afghanistan, through either the Kunar, Waygal or Parun valleys, which then wind down into provinces nearer to Kabul.

It is recognized that the surge was under-resourced.  It is recognized that the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces are currently in trouble due to neglect.  It is recognized that they may not survive as nominally Afghan-controlled provinces without U.S. troops.  So U.S. troops are back – and plan to leave within about four months.

This is yet another sad tale of troops who know the value of the Hindu Kush, waning support for the campaign back home, and non-existent (or never-existent) support from the administration to properly prosecute this campaign.

Later in the report, an Afghan militia member shows up to inform them that the locals were very worried about the U.S. troop withdrawal.  Of course they are.  Command attempts to paint a happy face on the overall picture by saying that Kunar may in fact be okay.

Just a happy face couched in a sad report.

  • DirtyMick

    What’s the point anymore?

  • Šťoural

    It is cunning tactics,seized ridge and wait,and wait,and wait….

  • TS Alfabet

    Can one of our professional military readers confirm that this 4-month stay in Nuristan is essentially a “rear guard action” ?

    There ought to be hell to pay for every politician who is not demanding an end to this bloody (literally) charade. I could at least respect Obama if he pulled all the troops out now (as humiliating as that would be) and end the needless losses.

    Everyone (except Pollyannas like Max Boot) know that Afghanistan doesn’t stand a chance after 2014. Heck, it may not even make it to 2014.

    And if we are fortunate enough for Obama to lose in November, what could a President Romney do at this late stage? There’s no political support for the kind of surge in forces and change in tactics that would beat the hell out of the enemy.

    I almost suspect that Obama has known for some time that he is getting the can in November and he has been spending his last year in office (when not playing golf or fundraising) thinking up ways to leave as many delayed-fuse bombs behind for his “lucky” GOP successor.

    Let’s check the list of ticking bombs: 1) Afghanistan? You bet. Set to explode in 2013 or 2014 at the latest; 2) Massive tax hike and severe Defense cuts all at the same time? Yep–timed to go off in January 2013; 3) A budget deficit over 100% of the U.S. GDP combined with a no-growth recovery? Uh huh, that one could explode anytime that the bond markets decide that they are not going to buy U.S. bonds at virtually 0% interest; 4) An Iranian nuclear power? Yeah, he has a sweet deal with the Mullahs to keep things at low boil until December 2012. After that, the Iranians will test both a nuclear weapon and demo their nuclear sub they are developing. So much for that little country that Obama dismissed as harmless back in 2008.

  • MW Navy

    I take it FOB Bostick is about to close and its OPs with it. Geez, will anything be left along the AfPak border between China and the Khyber Pass? So this is what defeat looks like. My BDE (4-4 Inf.) lost 50+ in 09-10 in the AO. Not pretty to see it fall to the Taliban.


You are currently reading "Return To Nuristan – Only To Leave Again", entry #8630 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Kunar Province,Nuristan and was published June 13th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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