Greg Jaffe has more details on the move, including a lot of quotes from the young captain who last led U.S. troops in the valley (from which unit we're inexplicably not told, though I'm sure Tintin is all over this).
U.S. troops are pulling out of Afghanistan's perilous Korengal Valley as part of a new focus on protecting population centers, NATO said Wednesday.
The isolated mountainous region of caves and canyons on the eastern border with Pakistan has seen fierce fighting between NATO and Taliban insurgents, who use it as a route for infiltrating weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.
The repositioning reflects the new thinking among commanders that forces are best used to protect the civilian population rather than placed in scattered outposts that are highly exposed to militant activity and difficult to resupply and reinforce.
"This repositioning, in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, responds to the requirements of the new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy," Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, joint commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said in a statement e-mailed to media. "The move does not prevent forces from rapidly responding, as necessary, to crises there in Korengal and in other parts of the region, as well."
We had a question in the comments back in December from a Steve S., who was interested in re-enlisting for what seemed like the express purpose of going to the Korengal. So, Steve: sorry to disappoint, but you missed your window.
It was as if the five years of almost ceaseless firefights and ambushes had been a misunderstanding -- a tragic, bloody misunderstanding.
More than 40 U.S. soldiers have been killed, and scores more wounded, in helicopter crashes, machine-gun attacks and grenade blasts in the Korengal Valley, a jagged sliver just six miles deep and a half-mile wide. The Afghan death toll has been far higher, making the Korengal some of the bloodiest ground in all of Afghanistan, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, the American presence here came to an abrupt end. Capt. Mark Moretti, the 28-year-old commander of U.S. forces in the valley, walked two dozen Korengali elders around his base and told them that the United States was withdrawing. He showed the elders the battle-scarred American barracks; a bullet-ridden crane; wheezing generators and a rubber bladder brimming with 6,000 gallons of fuel.
Moretti, the son of a West Point physics professor, and Shamshir Khan, a valley elder whose son had been jailed for killing two U.S. soldiers, sat together on a small wall near the base's helicopter pad. In keeping with local custom among friends, they held hands.
Moretti gently reminded Khan of the deal they had reached a few days earlier: if U.S. troops were allowed to leave peacefully, the Americans wouldn't destroy the base, the crane and the fuel.
Khan assured him that the valley's fighters would honor the deal.
"I hope that when I am gone you will do what is best for your valley and the villagers," an almost wistful Moretti said.
"I want you to travel safely to your home, to your family," the 86-year-old elder replied. He gazed at the American officer through thick glasses that magnified rheumy, brown eyes, and beamed.
Over the previous week, hundreds of U.S. Army Rangers and Afghan commandos had pushed into the valley to control the high ground the enemy would need for a big attack on departing troops. Dozens of cargo helicopters hauled off equipment. By
Wednesday morning, the last Americans were gone.
For more background on the Korengal, check this out.