Korengal Abandoned, Pech River Valley Still Problematic

BY Herschel Smith
13 years, 8 months ago

Stars and Stripes gives us a report on COP Michigan after the abandonment of the Korengal Valley.

For years, U.S. forces struggled in vain to win over the Korengal, so insular and violent that its people defeated an entire Russian division.

Finally, on April 14, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division packed up their items and pulled the U.S. presence back to COP Michigan.

The 327’s 1st Battalion took over six weeks later.

“When they were back in the Korengal, [U.S. forces] took lots of hits in the Korengal,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Musgrave, 25, of Columbus, Ohio. “Now, we take hits. It’s really where the buffer is, whether it’s here or in the Korengal.”

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.

Another enlightening report from Stars and Stripes comes to us concerning use of the big guns in the Pech River Valley area.

Each day in this hot summer fighting season, the thundering boom of U.S. artillery reverberates off mountain walls, shaking the Pech River Valley like a giant’s footsteps.

The big guns at Camp Blessing, the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment’s headquarters in the river valley, fire when any of the four U.S. bases that dot the river road come under attack. They strike when soldiers on patrol are ambushed by insurgents who stalk them from the mountain ridges, or when there are reports of insurgents preparing an assault.

In most of Afghanistan, the counterinsurgency strategy of diplomacy and governance has made these 155 mm howitzer guns almost irrelevant. Most artillery and mortar men are doing infantry jobs, focused on key population centers.

Not so in Pech. This is an artillery fight here, in deeply hostile mountain terrain, and this fighting season is so extreme that there is near constant and imminent threat to soldiers holding the valley floor.

It’s obvious that there are TIC (troops in contact) in the Pech River Valley, and it’s also obvious that there are plenty of insurgents in the area.  Friend Joshua Foust, with whom I seldom disagree, argued for leaving the rural, isolated areas in favor of heavy force projection in the heavily populated areas, a strategy that was and is being employed by the administration in a tip of the hat to population-centric counterinsurgency.

I argued, on the other hand (in the context of Helmand and Kahdahar), that:

It is a strange argument indeed that sends Marines to Kandahar while the insurgents in Now Zad have separated themselves off from civilians and invited a fight.  So send more Marines to Kandahar to control the streets.  The Taliban bullying will stop once a Regimental Combat Team arrives.  This should not be too difficult to pull off.  As I have said before, there are so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that some units are not even in the same barracks, and more barracks are being built.  Not since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has the Corps been so large with so many Marines garrisoned in the states.  Furthermore, if they aren’t in the states they are on board amphibious assault docks doing nothing.  Entire Battalions of Marine infantry – doing nothing for nine months.

But if the resources to control Kandahar are there, the argument to remove them from Helmand is not.  Whether the sources for the WSJ and Joe Klein’s article are wishing for the narrative to gain traction or there is in reality a sense that Helmand is a sideshow is irrelevant.  The strategists need to sense the reality that Helmand is not a sideshow, and that it is a very real line of effort in the campaign.  Without hitting the insurgents where they live we will follow the Russians out of Afghanistan.

The Helmand Province is the home of the indigenous insurgency, the Afghanistan Taliban, and its capital is Lashkar Gah.  Without hitting the Taliban’s recruiting grounds, fund raising and revenue development, training grounds, and logistical supply lines, the campaign cannot be won.  Focusing on the population centers is a loser strategy, doomed to sure failure.  Controlling the cities as some sort of prison while the roads are all controlled by Taliban is just what the Russians did, only to withdraw in ignominy.  The Marines are in Helmand because just like Anbar, Iraq at the time, it is the worst place on earth.

Josh isn’t convinced, and is engaging in a sort of Socratic dialogue with his readers over this issue again, just at the moment with respect to the Kunar Province rather than Helmand.  But a recent communication to me from Afghanistan reiterated what I already know: “The Taliban doesn’t dig its roots in the cities.”  And again from a commenter to Joshua’s article:

I’m worried that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Afghan insurgency at all levels. It isn’t an urban based insurgency. Dense population centers are not the centers of gravity that they are/were in Iraq or other insurgent movements. Because it is a rural insurgency, counterinsurgents must need be in rural areas with the population, which by extension means that we run the risk of spreading our forces thin. There’s always risk.

If it’s no longer worth the risk to put forces in the decisive points where they need to be in order to defeat the insurgent momentum, then it’s no longer worth the risk to be in the theater of operations at all. I highly disagree with that too.

Just so.  While I slightly to moderately disagree with the controlling concept of CoG for warfare, I certainly strongly disagree with the notion of the singular CoG being the population, even in counterinsurgency.  This isn’t to say that the population isn’t important, or that we mustn’t work with them, or have no need of living with them, contacting them, or protecting them from insurgents.  It is to say, however, that for us to win based on population approval is the same thing as occupation of land, just with a different target.

It doesn’t really matter if we occupy land or the minds of the population.  In both cases we are dependent on something else to achieve success.  In one case we occupy terrain.  In the other, we occupy anthropological terrain, a much more volatile and much less reliable terrain.  And if we abandon Korengal, they follow us to the mouth of the Pech River.  If we abandon the Pech River Valley, they will follow us to the next location, and next, and next …

While Joshua also seems to disagree with what he called the “Baghdadification” of Kandahar (a tip of the hat to zones, concrete barriers, etc.), at least that focuses on corralling and killing the enemy.  In Fallujah in 2007 heavy kinetic operations were employed to kill the enemy, along with concrete barriers, gated communities, biometrics, and so on to identify the enemy.  If this sounds different from the popular narrative, it’s because it is.  Gated communities and biometrics weren’t employed to protect the population.  They were employed to locate and destroy the enemy.

Nuristan and Kunar are worth it because this is the lifeblood of the insurgency.  But a strong warning goes along with this advocacy.  If we are setting our troops up for the same fate as the men at Wanat or Kamdesh because of lack of CAS, lack of logistics, under-resourcing, lack of artillery and restrictive ROE, then we should withdraw them now.  Counterinsurgency isn’t a game to be played out of anthropological textbooks.  Real lives are at stake, and unless we are willing to commit the resources, it’s easy (and perhaps wise?) to pose the question as Josh does – is it worth it?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On August 12, 2010 at 3:24 am, skiritai72 said:

    Having served in the Konar region, the biggest problem there is Pakistan. Plain and simple, the counter insurgency can thrive because they can lick their wounds in a safe haven.

  2. On August 12, 2010 at 7:23 am, Bob Sykes said:

    This is depressing. You keep posting stories about the Taliban forcing soldiers and Marines to withdraw from advanced bases only to have the next in line to come under fire.

    It certainly reads like a slow-moving military defeat. One gets the impression that the area under NATO/US control is actually diminishing.

  3. On August 12, 2010 at 11:04 am, burkbraun said:

    Thanks for the interesting dialogue.

    What do you think the force commitment should be? How much more is needed in Afghanistan?

    If I could make one comment, it would be about the prioritization of goals in coin. There is a spectrum of governance/power that we are trying to provide, and that the Taliban is trying to provide in competition. It starts with the simplest vandalism/announcement of presence, to terrorism, to night-time governance, to rural predominance, to province-level control. The recent Taliban announcement that they will resume killing civilians indicates that they are regressing on that scale as they lose hope of controlling larger areas. Or one could take it that way if one is hopeful. At any rate, this spectrum is something we are working on as well in the other direction, and should guide our prioritization of coin. Which is to say, we need to hold and extend areas of control, rather than sporadically venturing into areas we don’t and only making the locals miserable without long-term gains. Taking potshots into the hills doesn’t sound like a productive strategy, though if it is in support of a durable extension of state control, that would be another matter. Do these operations actually degrade the Taliban without extending durable control? I don’t think so, and even the reverse if the locals are induced to join the Taliban, whether willingly or unwillingly.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You are currently reading "Korengal Abandoned, Pech River Valley Still Problematic", entry #5347 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Kunar Province,Pech River Valley and was published August 11th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (704)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (40)
Air Power (10)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (22)
Ammunition (277)
Animals (285)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (373)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (86)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (28)
Australian Army (7)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (3)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (219)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (18)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (3)
Blogs (24)
Body Armor (23)
Books (3)
Border War (18)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (38)
British Army (35)
Camping (5)
Canada (17)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (16)
Christmas (16)
CIA (30)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (3)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (218)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (210)
Department of Homeland Security (26)
Disaster Preparedness (5)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (15)
Donald Trump (27)
Drone Campaign (4)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (2)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (39)
Featured (189)
Federal Firearms Laws (18)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (1,767)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (15)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (44)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (9)
Georgia (19)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (1,638)
Guns (2,307)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (8)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (16)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (3)
Horses (2)
Humor (72)
Hunting (33)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (108)
India (10)
Infantry (4)
Information Warfare (4)
Infrastructure (4)
Intelligence (23)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (171)
Iraq (379)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (64)
Islamists (98)
Israel (19)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (3)
Jihadists (81)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (7)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (6)
Lawfare (14)
Leadership (6)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (50)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (280)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
Media (68)
Medical (146)
Memorial Day (6)
Mexican Cartels (41)
Mexico (61)
Michael Yon (6)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (5)
Military Equipment (25)
Militia (9)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (25)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (25)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (95)
NATO (15)
Navy (30)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (3)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (3)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (62)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (221)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (7)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (72)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (4)
Pizzagate (21)
Police (648)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (970)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (492)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (75)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (37)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (668)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (28)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (23)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (52)
Survival (185)
SWAT Raids (57)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (38)
Tactical Gear (14)
Taliban (168)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (21)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (96)
Thanksgiving (13)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (24)
TSA Ineptitude (13)
TTPs (4)
U.S. Border Patrol (6)
U.S. Border Security (19)
U.S. Sovereignty (24)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (10)
Uncategorized (98)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (3)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (412)
War & Warfare (41)
War Movies (4)
War Reporting (21)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (79)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (21)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

April 2024
March 2024
February 2024
January 2024
December 2023
November 2023
October 2023
September 2023
August 2023
July 2023
June 2023
May 2023
April 2023
March 2023
February 2023
January 2023
December 2022
November 2022
October 2022
September 2022
August 2022
July 2022
June 2022
May 2022
April 2022
March 2022
February 2022
January 2022
December 2021
November 2021
October 2021
September 2021
August 2021
July 2021
June 2021
May 2021
April 2021
March 2021
February 2021
January 2021
December 2020
November 2020
October 2020
September 2020
August 2020
July 2020
June 2020
May 2020
April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2024 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.