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Will US exit strategy work in Afghanistan? Brutal valley emerges as test.

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They see the return as an opportunity to forge a new model for cooperation and mentoring with the Afghan security forces. But while the Pech is admittedly one of Afghanistan’s toughest assignments, the Afghan Army’s failed four-month attempt take the reins of security illustrates its shortfalls – and how far there is to go, US officers say, if NATO is to turn all security responsibilities over to Afghan forces by 2014.

The troops who have come back to this jagged spine of mountain peaks are under no illusions about the difficulty of the task that awaits them. Their code name for this operation: “Hotel California.”

“It’s like the lyrics,” says 2nd battalion intelligence officer Maj. Marcus Wright of the Eagles song: “ ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.’ ”

Welcome back

When US forces moved back into Camp Blessing in late July, they were greeted with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, one of which hit the underbelly of a US Chinook carrying supplies for the base. That marked the first shoot-down of a Chinook this year. The pilot was able to land relatively gently without any serious injuries, though passengers were forced to sprint when thousands of rounds of ammunition caught fire and ignited, causing shrapnel injuries and destroying the helicopter.

It was a pattern of hostility repeatedly encountered by US forces. “We really had to reoccupy the base,” says Maj. Glenn Kozelka, executive officer for the 2nd battalion, 3rd brigade combat team of the 25th Infantry Division.

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