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

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The PEP will revolve around 40 US troops at Nangalam working with multiple companies of the Afghan Army. Most immediately, with a stronger base here, Tuley hopes US forces “can come in and do operations as necessary,” allowing NATO to extend its reach farther into the valley. Perhaps more long-term, he adds, the PEP “is a great kind of interim phase to get the ANA to where [the transition is] not as abrupt.”

The US platoon will run workshops on basics from marksmanship to first aid – lessons that have been taught before, Tuley acknowledges, but bear repeating.

“If you think about it, this [Afghan commander at Nangalam] never had a partnership, Tuley adds. “It was. ‘Here’s your battlespace.’ ”

The first order of business – and lesson for Afghan commanders – is to bolster base defenses. When the US was here, Nangalam had early-attack warning systems, including towers with cameras that sent images to screens in a base defense center, which allowed troops to monitor the perimeter.

When Tuley returned, no vestige of those defenses remained. “The security definitely wasn’t at the level that I would ever feel too comfortable having my soldiers out there,” he says.

In response, he has assigned a US platoon of about 30 soldiers to patrol the surrounding area, and he stationed a single US soldier with night-vision goggles at each Afghan guard post along the perimeter of the base.

Beyond base defenses, Tuley must help the Afghans carry out their own missions more effectively.

The PEP's first big test: A humanitarian mission into one of the more isolated and government-averse areas of the country.

Testing a new partnership

The mission was an Afghan command idea, and US officials are pleased to see Afghan soldiers taking a page from the US playbook: following violent operations with aid for villages, in the hopes of mitigating hard feelings and demonstrating the reach of the Afghan government.

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