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Army unit to return to region of deadly battle

VICENZA, Italy — The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment is heading back to the same region where it took part in the Army’s deadliest battle in Afghanistan.

While the rest of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is heading to Logar and Wardak provinces for its upcoming deployment, the 2-503rd will be assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said Maj. Thomas Gilleran, 173rd public affairs officer.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team is serving in Kunar province, the same region where the 2-503rd served in 2007-2008.

During its 14-month tour, "The Rock," as the unit is known, engaged in hundreds of contacts with enemy forces, including the battle of Wanat, in which hundreds of insurgents attacked a small, remote Army outpost. In the hours-long battle, nine 2-503rd soldiers were killed and more than two dozen were wounded.

The region is still volatile.

Since the beginning of October, 12 soldiers assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team have died, including eight who were killed Oct. 3 in Kamdesh district in an attack similar to the one at Wanat.

Kamdesh is in Nuristan province and northeast of Wanat. Kamdesh is one of a collection of isolated valleys near northeastern Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan where U.S. troops have faced fierce resistance in recent years. Military and outside analysts have described the insurgency in northeast Afghanistan as a hybrid of local, tribally based fighters loosely allied with the Taliban and other insurgent networks. The military initially ascribed the Kamdesh attack to tribal militias but later blamed the Taliban.

Battalion leaders confirmed the 2-503rd’s upcoming assignment.

More than 3,000 troops based in Germany and Italy are taking part in the 173rd’s upcoming deployment, which was first announced in July.

Gilleran said Friday that advance elements from the brigade are already in the country and he expected the unit would take control of its area of operations from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division "in the near future."

"We will have pieces of the brigade continue to deploy over the next few weeks," he said.

Wardak and Logar provinces are directly south of the provinces of Parwan, the home of Bagram Air Field, and Kabul, the country’s capital.

South of Kabul, Logar province has long been the heart of insurgent activity targeting the capital city.

Desert conditions and rocky, mountainous terrain embrace lush green valleys where fruit orchards and wheat fields feed the capital. But a scarcity of water and the terrorizing reign of the Taliban have left the villagers poor, scared and often unwilling to side with an absentee government.

In some parts of the province, 3rd Brigade Combat Team soldiers have been training a ragtag Afghan police force, while others are pushing out on patrols to villages, getting to know friendly faces, and often, trying to win over ambivalent, or even hostile, villagers.

It’s the 173rd’s third deployment to Afghanistan since 2005.

"Hopefully, we will set the conditions ... so that we as a brigade will no longer have to go back (to Afghanistan)," Gilleran said.

Stars and Stripes reporters Mike Gisick and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report.


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