It's So Hard to Say Goodbye

So much conflict is generated by misunderstanding, and, sadly, it often costs lives.

In David Kilcullen's book, "The Accidental Guerrilla", he describes a battle between US Special Forces with their Afghan allies versus the Taliban.  In that battle, many of the locals joined in to attack the US forces.  Afterward, a journalist followed up with the locals to ask if they hated the US.  The local men replied that they didn't hate the US at all.  They fought, basically, because a fight broke out and they weren't going to miss it.

This story encapsulated our experience in the Pech Valley.  When we didn't go into the town at the western edge of our AO for 7 months, no fighting was reported there.  When we showed up one day, a 7-hour firefight ensued.  Our commander was sure that, essentially, our presence made the locals' lives more dangerous.  In conjunction with an overall US plan for consolidation, we planned for and began leaving the valley.

We closed the bases from west to east.  Since I was at the western-most base, I had to move.  It wasn't an option to move to the mouth of the Korengal - that would be closed next, and we had built up forces there in anticipation of a brutal exit, and they needed every bunk for people who carried guns.  My executive officer told me I should move the base on the eastern end of the valley, which had far less contact than the other three.  I proposed to the commander that I go to combat outpost (COP) Able Main, at the intersection of the Pech and Shuryak Valleys (of "Lone Survivor" fame). 

The men were really excited that I was moving there, though very few attended religious services.  They set me up with a nice metal box to live in, with a few sandbags facing the most common incoming fire direction.  My old stomping grounds was closed soon after, with the local looting the base of everything of value left behind.  As we prepared to close the COP at the mouth of the Korengal Valley, our leaders planned to prevent the kind of tragedies that had occurred in our area before (such as at Wanat and COP Keating).  We inserted units on all of the high ground around the COP before it was evacuated - leading to one of the funniest memories in true gallows humor style.

We didn't tell our Afghan friends what we were doing.  Since we had gone into some valleys recently, we told them we were going into a valley close to one of the other COPs.  The insertion happened at night, and when the sun came up, our Afghan partners were surprised at what they saw.  One of the translators turned to the company commander with him, and said, "Sir!  This is NOT the Wali Tangi!  This is the Korengal Valley!!!  We will all be dead by nightfall!!"  

Thankfully, our leaders planned and executed so well that the enemy made little effort to dislodge us from our positions.  We closed down the COP, blew up the observation post further down the Korengal, bulldozed the structures, and extracted the covering units - leaving the enemy to claim the pile of rubble we created as their "victory".  

That left COP Able Main as the closest outpost to those fighters who previously would have attacked Blessing or Michigan.  It was about to get lively in my new neighborhood.


** Photo credit: Harry Sanna,, accessed June 5th, 2018