Combat Outpost Serves as Front Line in Afghanistan Fight
(April 5, 2009)
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Rios,
right, and Pfc. Michael Halter, Company A, 2nd
Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, lead a patrol
down during a village assessment in the Jalrez
Valley of Afghanistan's Wardak province, March
12, 2009. This was the troops' first stop in the
village as they worked their way out from the
nearby combat outpost Apache.
||WASHINGTON, March 31, 2009
Next to a small village in Afghanistan's
fertile Jalrez Valley, a platoon of U.S.
soldiers busy themselves fortifying a fighting
position, stringing concertina wire, aiming
mortars, and filling lots and lots of sand bags.
“Apache,” a U.S. military
combat outpost, is housed in an abandoned former
district agricultural building. It is flanked by
a school and medical clinic on its east.
Villagers tend to an orchard that runs along its
west side, and to the north a handful of farmers
care for cattle and crops.
It seems an unlikely spot for coalition forces
to go toe-to-toe with the Taliban and other
enemy fighters who use this valley for staging
attacks in nearby areas, such as the capital
city of Kabul. But the outpost is the front line
in a fight against an enemy that hides among the
local population in the villages and in the
Pushing troops out of larger forward
operating bases and into community-based combat outposts was
successful in Iraq for holding areas cleared of enemy
forces. It is this same strategy that military officials in
Afghanistan's Wardak province hope will quash enemy activity
in one of the country's most dangerous valleys. |
“Our presence alone is the security,” said Army Capt.
Matthew Thom, commander of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 87th
Infantry Regiment. “I believe that since we're here ... our
permanent presence is going to prevent that kinetic
The 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team has
more than tripled the firepower here since taking over
operations in Wardak and Logar provinces last month. It has
doubled the number of combat outposts to six in Wardak.
Before, only a company patrolled an area where two
battalion-sized task forces now operate. Everything about
the troop's presence here projects power, and that is
exactly the message military officials want to send to the
enemy fighters expected to return to the area as the weather
“I am fully confident that they would be foolish to attack
us,” Thom said. “Nobody wants that, but I feel that we are
postured according to the threat level very well. I believe
that our posture alone is going to prevent that from
Thom's troops landed, literally, in the valley about a month
ago, in an air assault mission that many of the soldiers
described as the most difficult of their careers. In the
bitter-cold, early morning hours, the infantry troops
launched with full combat packs from hovering helicopters
into waist-deep snow and began a five-mile trek to what is
now their outpost.
The mud building that would become their home was abandoned
and cold. There was no electricity or water. Like most
outposts here, conditions are, to say the least, austere,
especially at the start. The troops themselves build up the
outposts, securing them first, and then adding comforts such
There is no running water and no cold storage, which means
no cooked meals and no showers. Troops suffice with heated,
packaged Army meals and keep clean with “lots and lots of
But, for the
most part, the infantry soldiers are happy. It's not a bad
life as far as infantry goes, they said. There is a roof
over their heads, and they are not sleeping on the ground.
Mail is delivered fairly regularly, and soldiers rely on
comfort items sent from home. Conditions are better now that
during the unit's first deployment to Afghanistan a few
years ago, the unit's veterans said. One platoon sergeant
went four months without a shower then, he said.
“Life is good,” Thom said. “This is definitely not Bagram
[Airfield], but I really don't want it to be that. We have
what we need to do our jobs, and too much more becomes a
distraction. We stay really busy.”
Security is provided from three outposts along the Jalrez
Valley, which stretches west about 15 miles from the
provincial capital of Maydan Shahr. About 70 small villages
are scattered through the valley, with multiple tribes in
Thom divides the responsibility for the
villages between platoons, and military leaders spend their
days patrolling, meeting with tribal leaders and assessing
The U.S. troops bring with them much-needed funds for
construction and renovations. But still, some in the area
are wary that the troop's presence will draw more fighting
to the valley, and that their families and livelihoods could
be caught in the crossfire.
“When we come here, we kind of bring a sense of war with
[us],” Thom acknowledged. “There is some skepticism, but I
believe the better part of the population is happy we're
The commander's fight in the valley demonstrates the
evolution of the traditional infantry role. Once focused
primarily on operations surrounding killing or capturing the
enemy, now Thom and his troops find themselves at the tip of
the spear in what he called a true counterinsurgency fight.
The soldiers spend less of their time looking for the enemy
and more time befriending the local people in an effort to
drive a wedge between those who support an insurgency and
those who don't.
“Now we have to be dual-hatted. We have to have that ability
to conduct kinetic operations and counterinsurgency
operations, and that's what we do,” Thom said. “We knew
coming into this country there was a kinetic threat, but we
were going to beat the kinetic threat with the
Patrols are focused around
assessing villages and meeting local leaders.
Military officers mentor district government
leaders and help them strengthen their local
millions of dollars in Commanders' Emergency
Response Program funds are funneled into local
projects such as repairing wells, refurbishing
schools and building roads.
And for their efforts, the troops hope the local
people will point out anyone in their villages
who would threaten the security in the area.
But Army 1st Lt. Mark Hogan, a Company A platoon
leader, said the soldiers don't dangle dollars
for projects over the heads of the tribal
leaders in exchange for intelligence.
Daniel Camino, left, and Staff
Sgt. Cody Collins, Company A,
2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry
Regiment, stop a local boy
riding his donkey near a meeting
with local leaders in
Afghanistan's Jalrez Valley,
Wardak province, March 12, 2009.
The patrol secures the area for
the meeting and is watchful of
attacks in one of the most
dangerous valleys in the
“I can help them, and if they become our
friends, they want to give us information. It helps us help
them,” Hogan said. “The concern is their security. My guys
are going to be able to secure themselves. Them giving us
information is for their own safety.”|
Hogan said that if local residents deliver up the names and
locations of enemy fighters operating in the area, U.S. and
Afghan forces can be more strategic about removing them from
the local population. One military officer referred to the
precise operations as “surgical.”
Hogan said this allows his forces to strike first, using
less firepower and with safety measures in place to protect
The platoon leader acknowledges that is the delicate balance
he must strike operating within a civilian population. One
wrong move, or misplaced mortar, and Hogan jeopardizes
alienating the population he is trying win over and knocking
the legs out from under coalition counterinsurgency efforts.
The U.S. forces operating before in this valley offered a
blunt assessment of the threat for Hogan and his forces.
“You don't come into the valley without fighting your way
out,” he said.
But the troops have been there a month now, and so far there
have been no attacks. Hogan and the soldiers in his command
are hopeful that the increased troop strength may have
staved off some attacks. And they are pushing hard to
establish roots in the communities so that when the enemy
fighters return, they find themselves without the support
they enjoyed in previous years.
Still, only time will tell -- as the days warm and snow
melts on the surrounding hills, and enemy fighters begin to
move through the passes -- whether Hogan can place stock in
the fruits of this different fight.
The young infantry officer, who seven years ago would have
been spending his days here engaged much differently, is now
not itching for that kind of a fight.
“If we can come here and improve this valley and walk away
without firing a shot, the closer the war is to being over,”
Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
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