U.S. starts new airlift operation in eastern Afghanistan
By STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 28, 2011
JALALABAD, Afghanistan — A large-scale operation airlifting hundreds of U.S. and Afghan soldiers into eastern Afghanistan is being met with fierce resistance by the Taliban and other armed groups, according to a report in USA Today.
U.S. commanders say the aim of the operation is to wipe out a persistent insurgency in the northern part of Watahpur District in Kunar province, long a stronghold for armed factions both from local areas and from nearby Pakistan, preparing the way for a takeover by the Afghanistan National Army.
Maj. Pat Stitch, brigade operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, told a reporter that the hope is that the Afghan army can “hold what we cleared” and patrol a region that has been dominated by insurgents from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Taming this volatile area of Kunar is not an easy task, as U.S. forces have learned. American troops have sustained heavy casualties in Watahpur District and the surrounding area, USA Today noted.
A small combat outpost in the restive Korengal Valley, just to the west of Watahpur, was overrun in 2009, leaving eight soldiers dead just weeks before it was scheduled to be closed.
Watahpur is bisected by the Pech River Valley, where in recent months several U.S. military bases and smaller combat outposts were handed over to the Afghan army.
Prior to the handover, a full battalion of American soldiers had a permanent presence in the region. Now there remains one U.S. Army company and an attached platoon.
U.S. Army Spc. Joshua Barnett of Springfield, Mass., a rifleman with 1st Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force Bulldog, climbs to a ridge in Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan Sept. 16. International Security Assistance Forces and Afghan National Security Forces often patrol the Watahpur Valley area together to prevent insurgents from moving freely through the area and staging attacks.
GARY A. WITTE/COURTESY OF THE U.S. ARMY