Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 20, 2009

Why Fight In Korangal Valley?

Today's NYT has an embed piece on a platoon firefight in the Korangal valley in Afghanistan. The platoon had earlier ambushed some 'Taliban' (the Korangalis say locals) and expected to be attacked while going to 'meet local elders' in some village. The attack happens, one soldier dies and the rest have to retreat.

The purpose of the whole action is not really explained but the writer gives us two important pieces of information.

First, who the U.S. soldiers are fighting:

Relatively few Arabs or foreigners come here, the company’s officers say. But the Korangalis, a hardened and isolated people with their own language, have managed to lock the American Army into a bloody standoff for a small space for more than three years.

The Korangalis have fought, the officers say, in part because they support the Taliban and in part because they are loggers and the Afghan government banned almost all timber cutting, putting local men out of work.

Korangal Outpost itself symbolizes the dispute. It occupies a former sawmill, and the mill’s displaced owner is a main organizer of the insurgency. The Taliban pay the best wages in the valley now, the officers said.

The expression 'Taliban' seems somewhat abused here. The local mill owner, Haji Matin, and the people who made a living working there have good reason to hate and oppose the occupiers:

As the Afghans tell the story, from the moment the Americans arrived in 2001, the Pech Valley timber lords and warlords had their ear. Early on, they led the Americans to drop bombs on the mansion of their biggest rival — Haji Matin. The air strikes killed several members of his family, according to local residents, and the Americans arrested others and sent them to the prison at Bagram Air Base. The Pech Valley fighters working alongside the Americans then pillaged the mansion.

The whole thing started because the U.S. was used by one tribe to eliminate some competition from another tribe. They shut down the only real business the valley has and thereby increased unemployment. Since then the Korangalis oppose the occupiers. These people have nothing to do with 'Taliban'. They are not even Pashtuns but speak Pashai and have a totally different social system.

Why is it a task for the U.S. military to fight these locals? Why not just leave them and their valley alone?

And how is the U.S. doing its fight? Is it careful to not further incite the locals against it? What is the planed endgame? Winning hearts and minds?

The second revealing snip from today's piece. Pinned down by small arms fire the platoon calls in some help:

In American firebases on ridges along the valley, soldiers with heavier machine guns and automatic grenade launchers focused on Afghan buildings in three villages — Donga, Laneyal and Darbart — from where the trapped platoon was taking fire.

Farther back, at Company B’s outpost, a pair of Air Force noncommissioned officers was directing aircraft into position, while two 120-millimeter mortars were firing high-explosive and white phosphorus rounds at targets the platoon had identified.
Then the satellite-guided bomb whooshed in and exploded.
Two more airstrikes blew apart two buildings on the opposite side from where the Taliban had been firing.

All this to 'meet with local elders'? Any doubt what their opinion will be? What they will tell their young folks to do?

Posted by b on April 20, 2009 at 12:25 UTC | Permalink


That didn't take long. Just a few days ago, the articles were crowing about the wonderful battle there in which the soldiers ambushed a Taliban column in a turkey shoot. It took less than a week for the tables to turn.

Even with all our technical and organizational advantages, the fight on the ground is pretty much even.

Posted by: Bill | Apr 20 2009 15:04 utc | 1

Why Fight In Korangal Valley?

I can offer this link to a thread about the same question from a blog by some 20-something career Petraeus wannabes.

I'm just linking, not endorsing this site.

[link fixed - b.]

Posted by: brixton | Apr 20 2009 17:13 utc | 2

link not working, brixton

Posted by: biklett | Apr 20 2009 17:26 utc | 3

Vielen Dank.

Posted by: brixton | Apr 20 2009 17:49 utc | 4

@brixton - yeah - 20-somethings

some of the comments at AbuM say the Korangal lies on the east-west route from Pakistan. Not true - it is a side valley with a distinct minority population that has no beef in the overall fight.

Posted by: b | Apr 20 2009 18:05 utc | 5

Reading the paper or Time Magazine doesn't make anyone an expert on how our soldiers are faring in the mountains of Afghanistan. The majority of fighters that oppose our troops in the Korangal Valley are not local. They are Merc's hired by the Taliban and paid for with profits from the sale of poppies. The Valley itself is a "highway" that Taliban fighters use to travel from their training bases in Pakistan to the rest of Afghanistan. That being said, less than two hundred American troops are basically surrounded by what may be several thousand Taliban fighters. That's not what I would call even. Training, tactics and yes, superior technolgy have allowed Viper Company to maintain a very dangerous but successful mission. By the way, it was the locals clear cutting and near deforrestation of large areas that lead the Afghan Govenment to stop logging, not American involvment. American troops have offered for two years to build a paved road to open up the valley to other kinds of commerce and trade but the Taliban forbids it. They know that keeping the locals ignorant and isolated is their best way to control them.
My info doesn't come Time magazine. My son is a squad leader in Viper Company and was in the "turket shoot" described. It was actually a very well planned and executed tactical manuever on a well armed and seasoned enemy, perhaps twice the size of 2nd pltn. The fight on the ground isn't even close to being even. Not by a long shot.

Posted by: Alan | Apr 27 2009 17:58 utc | 6

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