Troop shortage causes US to pull out of Afghan valley
Image via WikipediaC.J. Chivers, NY Times:
After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.The problem is that Obama did not surge the number of troops requested by the commanders at the time and we are having to make compromises to have an adequate force to space ration in areas the military thinks they can be most effective. The additional forces would have made us much more effective in these valleys and denied the real estate to the enemy. This is a new version of whack-a-mole with us giving the moles a breather in certain areas.
The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province’s more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.
While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine’s emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.
And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley’s maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.
Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. “People say, ‘You are coming out of the Pech’; 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.”
The reorganization, which follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley, runs the risk of providing the Taliban with an opportunity to claim success and raises questions about the latest strategy guiding the war.