U.S. forces pull out of Afghanistan outpost after deadly attack
U.S. troops have withdrawn from two remote outposts in northeastern Afghanistan days after a large-scale insurgent assault in the area that killed eight American and several Afghan troops, the military said.
The military said the plan to withdraw from the bases in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan province was approved well before the Oct. 3 attack and was part of a “realignment” designed to focus troops on more populated areas. The troops will be assigned elsewhere in eastern Afghanistan, the military said.
“The idea of blocking off individual mountain passes and attempting to stop groups of militants there leads to a diluted effect where you don’t have the troop levels to protect population centers,” Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces, said.
The daylight attacks on the two bases — combat outposts Keating and Fritsche — amounted to the deadliest single battle for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in more than a year. The military says more than 100 Taliban fighters were killed as American and Afghan National Army troops fought back from the bases, and called in artillery and air support to eventually drive off the insurgents. At least two Afghan soldiers were also killed.
Mathias said the U.S. withdrawal had not started prior to the attack and that the bases were at normal strength. Roughly one U.S. infantry company, or about 75 soldiers, was based at Keating while a smaller number was housed at Fritsche. A contingent of Afghan soldiers also lived at Keating. The troops departed the bases overnight Wednesday — four days after the attack — and both outposts were then destroyed by U.S. airstrikes, Mathias said.
The U.S. soldiers killed Oct. 3 were all members of the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, based at Fort Carson, Colo.
The 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. The battle of Wanat, where nine U.S. troops were killed in an attack on a temporary outpost in June 2008, took place in a valley not far away.
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.
In a statement posted on its Web site, the Taliban said it had carried out the attack, and claimed to have raised its flag over the Kamdesh district headquarters during a ceremony attended by “thousands” of local residents. The Taliban has in the past claimed credit for driving out American troops after staging attacks on outposts the Americans had already announced plans to close.
The decision to withdraw from the Kamdesh comes amid a strategic shift with broad implications for the eight-year-old NATO mission in Afghanistan. U.S. troops initially deployed to the remote outposts in an effort to restrict the movement of insurgents and cut off the flow of weapons and other supplies coming across the border from Pakistan. But U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who assumed overall command in Afghanistan in June, has directed a shift to focus on protecting Afghan civilians in more populated areas.
McChrystal is also pushing a plan to add perhaps 40,000 and reportedly as many as 60,000 more U.S. troops to the roughly 65,000 already deployed to Afghanistan, a request that is under review by the White House.