Charkh, Afghanistan (UPI) Oct 12, 2009
Although the Obama administration is continuing its heated and divisive debate over the U.S. military's future posture and strategy in Afghanistan, a fundamental feature of the conflict is likely to remain short of withdrawal.
It's the COP, or combat outpost, from which U.S. and multinational troops implement the nuts and bolts of counterinsurgency operations -- missions to find and engage terrorists and insurgents in specific geographic areas, close-in security patrols to free villages of insurgent influence and foster a sense of safety, and implementation and monitoring of hearts-and-minds humanitarian and infrastructure projects in conjunction with government authorities to weave a positive relationship between the two.
"In a country as large and complex as Afghanistan, ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) can't be everywhere," U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of multinational forces in Afghanistan, wrote in an Aug. 30 strategy assessment to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "ISAF must focus its full range of civilian and military resources where they will have the greatest effect on the people."
That means using COPs in "high density" population areas in a country where the words "remote" and "isolated" take on special meaning given that about 70 percent of its people live in rural areas. COPs in sparsely populated areas will be closed under the general's assessment of the war and the way forward to better reposition assets and defeat the Taliban.
COPs, which vary by degree in austerity, are inhabited by company or platoon-sized units with small Afghan security force elements who they mentor and work with. They are generally adjacent to or near groups of villages. Challenges vary. COPs Monti and Charkh are examples.
THE CHALLENGE IS TERRAIN
Only about half of the unit's sector at most is accessible by the unit's Humvees and other armored transport vehicles.
"My biggest challenge is the terrain," said Capt. Paco Bryant, Charlie Company's commander. "I know where they (the Taliban) are but can't get to them. And what makes it worse is that I know they know that."
The Taliban -- guesstimated in the mid-100s at any given time in the sector -- find Charlie Company. Since May the base has been hit by indirect rocket and mortar fire from nearby mountain ridges more than 20 times, said Capt. Don Maye, who is with an artillery battery on the base that was once overrun by mujahedeen guerrillas when Soviet troops occupied it in the 1980s.
Bryant's men also get ambushed along Route Stetson about twice a month. Stetson is a dirt track -- about 12 feet wide at most -- that snakes along the Kunar River and is tightly flanked by mountains. It's used twice a week for Afghan-driven and U.S. escorted supply convoys for outposts farther north and the dozens of civilian cargo vehicles that tag along.
"It's like shooting fish in a barrel for them," Bryant said of attacks. "The drivers panic, trucks overturn or crash into each other and create a huge bottleneck. Nothing can pass until the wreckage is cleared away, which means they have another opportunity to shoot at coalition forces and create an even larger bottleneck."
Also, people from villages near ambush points loot what they can.
"We can't reward the nonsense and shenanigans going on," Bryant said. "If I'm going through your village and get ambushed, guess what? Your schools won't be built, the wells won't be dug."
Aid projects and humanitarian drops are instead conducted for villages along the main paved road near the base, where inhabitants cooperate with the government and provide information of any Taliban activity in their area.
FEAR AND AMBIVALENCE
Wingeart is with Bravo Company, 1-32, a sister unit to Capt. Bryant's in Kunar province, far to the east. The unit's area of responsibility comprises just 178 square miles and is located 55 miles southeast of Kabul, the capital. Between 55,000 and 60,000 people live in Charkh, which features fruit orchards and fields of corn along a river.
Bravo's challenge is building the relationships with locals that produce cooperation with coalition forces, which not only helps with security but clears the path for beneficial hearts-and-minds programs.
"The bad guys are very good at intimidating people and controlling what they do," he said.
"We're new here. We arrived in early May and are the first Americans here, or at least the first in many years. How people treat us depends on the area. Those close to here (the COP) are starting to come around. Farther out, they're more stand-offish."
Wingeart estimates the number of hardcore gunmen -- Taliban and its allied Haqqani Network -- in the Charkh District at 30 to 40 at any given time.
Charkh, like other COPs, is vulnerable to attack. Last week several RPGs exploded overhead and the compound briefly was raked by gunfire from a hill close by. It was attack No. 17. Two days later, while on an intelligence gathering mission about 5 miles from the COP, a platoon killed two gunmen after they were fired upon while setting up a security position.
The exact number of COPs in Afghanistan is not immediately available. But they are in every province of the country and, as in Iraq during the surge of U.S. forces, prove themselves the tip-of-the-spear facility in the effort to bring order to the country.
Share This Article With Planet Earth
News From Across The Stans
Afghan desert the enemy for US armoured vehicles
Spin Boldak District, Afghanistan (AFP) Oct 12, 2009
At dawn a long line of US armoured vehicles prepared to leave Forward Operating Base Spin Boldak for a high-risk mission into uncharted territory. But they met a different kind of enemy from the one they were expecting. The troops were on reconnaissance in the remote south, along the border with Pakistan, which is largely unknown terrain for NATO forces because only the Afghan border ... read more
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2009 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement|