US Pulling Out Of “Vital” Afghan Valley

In a major strategic reversal, the US military has begun withdrawing most of its forces from eastern Afghanistan’s Pech Valley – territory once described as “vital” to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal began two weeks ago. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counter-insurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory in an area that Afghans are not ready to defend on their own.

The reorganization follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley and is likely to be used by the Taliban to claim success.

It also raises more questions about the alternating strategies that are guiding the war.

American officials say their logic is simple and compelling: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.

President Obama’s Afghan troop buildup is now fully in place, and the United States military has its largest-ever contingent in Afghanistan. Obama’s reinforced campaign has switched focus to operations in Afghanistan’s south, and to building up Afghan security forces.

The previous strategy emphasized denying sanctuaries to insurgents, blocking infiltration routes from Pakistan and trying to fight away from populated areas, where NATO’s superior firepower could be massed, in theory, with less risk to civilians. The Pech Valley effort was once a cornerstone of this thinking.

Ultimately, the decision to withdraw reflected a stark – and controversial – internal assessment by the military that it would have been better served by not having entered the high valley in the first place.

While it is possible that the insurgents will concentrate in the mountain valleys, General Campbell said his goal was to arrange forces to keep insurgents from Kabul, the country’s capital.

“There are thousands of isolated mountainous valleys throughout Afghanistan, and we cannot be in all of them,” he said.

As the pullback begins, the switch in thinking has fueled worries among those who say the United States is ceding some of Afghanistan’s most difficult terrain to the insurgency and putting residents who have supported the government at risk of retaliation.

Some Afghan military officials expressed pointed misgivings about the prospects for Afghan units left behind.

“It will be a suicidal mission,” said the former second-in-command of an Afghan battalion in the valley.

The Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups are all but certain to label the withdrawal a victory in the Pech Valley, where they can point to the Soviet Army’s withdrawal from the same area in 1988. Many Afghans remember that withdrawal as a symbolic moment when the Kremlin’s military campaign began to visibly fall apart.

Within six months, the Soviet-backed Afghan Army of the time ceded the territory to mujahedeen groups, according to Afghan military officials.

American forces first came to the valley in force in 2003, following the trail of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hezb-i-Islami group, who, like other prominent insurgent leaders, has been said at different times to hide in Kunar. They did not find him, though Hezb-i-Islami is active in the valley.

Since then, one American infantry battalion after another has fought there, trying to establish security in villages while weathering roadside bombs and often vicious fights.

With at least 103 American soldiers killed in or near the valley – in one 2005 operation alone, 19 service members died – withdrawal from the Pech is also an emotional issue for American troops.

Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. “I don’t want the impression we’re abandoning the Pech.”

Complete article via New York Times


One Comment to “US Pulling Out Of “Vital” Afghan Valley”

  1. This will initial stage of defeat and withdraw of American force from Afghanisatan, like USSR, they started their, setback from this region,

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