U.S. Afghanistan Base: Death Trap From The Beginning

photo This past weekend insurgents attacked the base and killed at least 8 US soldiers, one of the deadliest single attacks since the war began eight years ago.

The remote base in northern Afghanistan where eight U.S. soldiers were killed this weekend in a deadly battle was well-known inside the military as extremely vulnerable to attack since the day it opened in 2006, according to U.S. soldiers and government officials familiar with the area.

When a reporter visited the base a few months after it opened, soldiers stationed in Kamdesh complained the base's location low in a valley made most missions in the area difficult.

"We're primarily sitting ducks," said one soldier at the time.

Known as Camp Keating, the outpost was "not meant for engagements," said one senior State Department official assigned to Afghanistan, and brings "a sad and terrible conclusion" to a three-year effort to secure roads and connect the Nuristan province to the central government in Kabul.

The boulder strewn road that led into the valley was referred to by U.S. soldiers stationed there as "Ambush Alley."

In addition to the eight dead Americans, at least two Afghan Army officers were killed, with as many as a dozen Afghan National Policemen missing, according to military and Afghan officials.

The base, located less than 10 miles from the Pakistan border and nestled in the Hindu Kush mountains, was attacked almost every day for the first two months it was opened, hit by a constant stream of rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire.

By the third or fourth month of the base's existence, resupply had been limited to nighttime helicopter flights because the daytime left helicopters and road convoys too exposed to insurgent attacks. That remained true through the weekend.

The base had several near-misses with enemy fire over the years. In 2006, all daytime helicopter flights landing at the valley floor were cancelled when an American Blackhawk was nearly hit with an incoming rocket as it was taking off. After the incident, helicopters were banned from landing anywhere but an observation post some three hours' walk above the base on a nearby ridgeline. Even then, helicopters filled with troops or equipment were rushed during offloading, as pilots were keen to take off before drawing hostile fire.

And like many other remote and rural parts of Afghanistan, the local population had begun souring on the American presence after airstrikes had hit civilians in the neighboring villages.

Deployment into Nuristan

The initial military goal was to establish the base as a one of 13 Provincial Reconstruction Teams set up throughout Afghanistan to help with reconstruction projects, civil affairs and basic safety for the local population. Within a year, the PRT had been moved to a safer, more hospitable base in the western section of the province.

Camp Keating, along with two other outposts near the border, was then intended to help patrol and oversee the stretch of the Pakistan border. U.S. officials were concerned that the nearby mountain passes were being used by militants to infiltrate Afghanistan and set up for attacks.

American officials were often divided over whether the U.S. effort in the mountainous region could be sustained.

According to an American who has consulted with U.S. forces on their deployment into Nuristan, the effort in the north can only be seen as a failure.

"What have we done there in the last three, four years," he said. "We didn't gain anything. We weren't able to open the road up or make the area secure.

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