Enemy Sniper at COP Pirtle-King in Kunar

BY Herschel Smith
11 years, 10 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.

[ … ]

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.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. On June 8, 2012 at 3:38 am, Šťoural said:

    After the briefing, the 3rd BCT command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Andrew J. Spano traveled with Capel to visit Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment at Observation Posts Mustang and Bari Ali, Combat Outpost Pirtle King and Forward Operating Base Bostick. During his visit, Capel spoke with Soldiers about the Army’s retention initiatives, drawdown from Afghanistan, prevention of sexual assault, leadership and other topics.


  2. On June 8, 2012 at 7:30 am, Rich Buckley said:

    The news is now full of all the latest in stealth drones. There must be a dozen or more in use, all hand held. A couple are reported to also carry “armament”. Some of the equipment seems like it would really serve well at this COP, but never seems to be mentioned. Is it too hush-hush or is it just not in use and if not in use why is it being so heavily discussed on military posts?

  3. On June 8, 2012 at 9:04 am, Jean said:

    Drones are not for infantryman, as matter of fact, there is an entire asernal of weapons not used by our troops stationed at COPs, they are deployed with their MTOE and whatever else RFI thinks they need.
    Love those CSM briefing….don’t forget AEF, must make your AEF contribution. Make sure you have your yellow belt PT belt when you back in Bagram. BTW this should be salute COP- its a matter of respect !

  4. On June 8, 2012 at 10:45 am, TS Alfabet said:

    As JBrookins said on another comment, it gets increasingly difficult to even contemplate Afghanistan anymore. It is such an oozing, noxious, puss-filled wound on American honor that I wish someone would just amputate and at least get it over with.

  5. On June 8, 2012 at 2:59 pm, Sparsh said:


    Here is simpler and more basic question that you should have asked: Why is that outpost located on the valley floor?

    Time and time again I have read accounts of outposts located on the valley floor with the high ground being ceded to the Taliban. You are just asking for that outpost to be hit day in and day out. After a decade plus of fighting in the mountains, why are such elementary mistakes being made?

  6. On June 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm, Herschel Smith said:

    Yes, that did in fact occur to me, as it did in Wanat (or Want), and Kamdesh.


    But the answer frequently is that there is no other place amenable to vehicular traffic, or no other place that is flat enough to emplace a COP (while OPs are typically located higher – my guess in this instance is that there is no OP).

    But it is still a great question, and if you MUST locate a COP on the valley floor, then why oh why would you create a lifestyle in which Soldiers spent their days running from snipers (or reading or lying around), and their nights doing regular maintenance? Why not, you know … be Soldiers and go kill that sniper?

  7. On June 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm, DirtyMick said:

    It’s been like that in Kunar forever. My sister section June 2010 hit an IED on MSR California and the whole truck crew had to be medevaced (the whole crew was RTD a week later) out. 327 had MSR California black and my sister section had to hole up at PK for 4 days. When we came off OP Bullrun (we have the high ground to an extent there) at Camp Wright and when my sister section got back from being stuck in Indian Country I remember talking to my buddies and they told me the following:
    “Ya man when we got to PK they didn’t have room for us so we had to sleep in the gun trucks outside the wire and pull security all night.”
    “We were told that the ROE was if we see anybody on the mountains to shoot em with the 50s and Marks because they’re all Taliban.”
    “Dude this place sucks. It just reeks of misery. I couldn’t be out here for 12 months the guys are always on edge and stare up at the mountains waiting for something to happen.”
    A lot of those small COPs in Kunar have taken on alamo type scenario where there boys don’t have the manpower (due to guys getting hurt, wounded, KIA, on leave etc), QRF assets take forever to get to the COP or the resupply is non existant so it’s basically wait for the siege to the happen.

  8. On June 9, 2012 at 4:56 am, Capt. Monkey said:

    A couple of comments on location. I generally agree that we fail to secure the high ground and key terrain throughout N2K. The justification for placement in lower ground, I think, is three-fold. First, as Herschel mentioned trafficability to the high ground is restricted to foot traffic. Most of the “COP”s begin as vehicle patrol bases (VPBs). They begin as such for the tertiary reason that I’ll hit in a second.

    Second, they are justified in the low-ground in order to be with the population. This actually does have some merit, even in non PC-COIN ops. If you drive, walk, fly, boat, teleport, or otherwise arrive in a village, the enemy will typically and temporarily disperse. Consequently, they have to shoot at the village and villagers, which then becomes a part of the IO campaign that the enemy is willing to attack innocent locals.

    Finally, I think that these COPs and PBs are placed in the low-ground because that’s where roads are. We desperately attempt to secure and maintain the roads to keep resupplies moving (e.g. to Bostick). However, we’ve fallaciously counted the road itself as the key terrain, rather than the high ground along the road which allows us to exert greater control over the road.

    Though, Bari Ali is in the high ground a couple of kilometers from PK. Unfortunately, it’s only accessible by air and foot. Bullrun is the high-ground and probably key terrain near Abad/Camp Wright. Avalanche is the high-ground and probably key terrain near Camp Blessing.

    I established three OPs around my patrol base in Wanat, which were completely successful in controling the area of the valley near the town, while preventing the enemy (a mixture of AQ, LeT, HiG, JeM and TB) from ever attacking our patrol base.

    Now, having said all of that, I do tend to agree that we’ve lost our teeth. We’ve institutionalized too much risk aversion and forgotten that we can survive in small squad-sized or platoon-sized elements in the hills moving and establishing a patrol base every 24hrs. We’ve become too reliant on creature comforts provided by camps and bases. We’ve become too reliant on heavily armored vehicles and regular resupply. If we abandoned our trucks and used forage or opfunds to find food, we could dramatically reduce the requirement for resupply in N2K, allowing us to focus on actually providing security while disrupting and destroying enemy networks in the area.

    Just my .02.

  9. On June 9, 2012 at 7:42 am, Šťoural said:

    Problem-resupply high ground?
    Solution WWI(Italy 1915-18)WWII(Italy 1943-45)
    1)Quartermaster mule pack company-for mobile operation
    2)Cableway-for static OP and construction FOB

    Where is problem?
    Is it low tech or low cost?


    David Little, historian for the 10th Mountain Division, said the idea of using mules or donkeys had been discussed by division commanders ever since the group’s first deployment in Afghanistan.

    “In the past, the 10th Mountain Division would take multiple helicopters and ferry troops in and drop them off,” Little said. “They’d leave them for a few days, and then resupply with another helicopter drop.”

    “But that helicopter resupply gives your position away,” Little said. “If you can resupply with mules, it’s not as visible to someone else on the ground.”

    Troops overseas are likely to draw from the local donkey talent pools, as Marines did last fall when hauling food and water to hundreds of soldiers deep in the hills around Kandagal, in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

    Marines there used about 30 donkeys rented from local farmers to support the two-week operation.

  10. On June 9, 2012 at 10:12 am, DirtyMick said:

    @Capt. Monkey whatever happened to doing stuff you learn at ranger school or do in the back 40 at Campbell or Bragg? You’re absolutely right you can set up PBs in the mountains and do a speedball every couple days from a 60

  11. On June 9, 2012 at 11:09 am, Jean said:

    We used donkeys to resupply the Ranch House in Waygal and for some extended opns in the upper Shigal Valley. Also to patrol the back side of Camp Wright and supply the OPs in Abad. I highly recommend reading the Vanguard of Valor- small unit action action in Afghanistan- It maybe posted on this site already or I can send it to Webmaster.

  12. On June 9, 2012 at 11:44 am, Jean said:

    Comment on COPs – “Fortifications are monuments to the stupidity of man” I think that quote was made about the Maginot line. We have no mobility in this war. Our failure to run down that mobile force or forces that have operated in the Kunar/Nuristan AO was a huge strategic blunder. If we had a sufficient/competent mobile QRF to kill/capture this group, separate the locally recruited talent from the Jihadist foreigners, the local support would have evaporated. We are not serious about winning this war; it’s become “Ground Day”.

  13. On June 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm, DirtyMick said:

    @stoural shiloh and bullrun at camp Wright both do resupply by donkey

    @ Jean you’re right. We need to get in the mountains and hunt the guys. Most of the time there’s no element of surprise because the locals are always watching but if you could set up no shit PBs out of the Ranger handbook and do a speedball every few days it could work

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You are currently reading "Enemy Sniper at COP Pirtle-King in Kunar", entry #8605 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Kunar Province and was published June 7th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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