The Beautiful, Deadly View From Camp Keating

The Beautiful, Deadly View From Camp Keating

The view from Camp Keating, nestled in an Afghan valley 10 miles from the Pakistan border, can be breathtaking. The sun sparkles off rivers flowing through the steep surrounding mountains in the daytime, and at night, the sky is filled with stars.

But as the dozens of U.S. soldiers stationed at Keating know, the mountains are more deadly than beautiful, often teeming with Taliban fighters. It was here that eight U.S. soldiers were killed last weekend, and here that the danger of attack from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades is a daily concern.

A video shot eight weeks ago by British news organization ITN captured a violent firefight at the camp. U.S. soldiers took fire from several locations in the mountains and allied Afghan soldiers returned fire blindly. One American fell into the cameraman, bullet fragments burning into his leg.

Such attacks are not news to men like Capt. Melvin Porter of the Fourth Infantry Division, as Keating has been furiously and repeatedly attacked since it opened in 2006.

"We're surrounded, and we're sitting in a bowl," Porter said on "Good Morning America" today. "We're constantly under observation."

At its peak, the outpost was home to about 100 U.S. soldiers and a few dozen Afghans from both the national army and police force. The base was reportedly down to half that size when it was attacked last weekend.

Sgt. Vernon Martin was one of the Americans killed, leaving behind a wife and three children.

His family wants to know why Martin was there to begin with, undermanned and undergunned, in such a vulnerable position, his uncle told "Good Morning America" today.

Although soldiers and government officials have been aware of Keating's precarious security situation since its inception, soldiers stationed there "don't ask any questions," one U.S. fighter said.

"We get in trouble for asking questions."

Keating's History of Violence

The base 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 has had several near-misses with enemy fire. In 2006, all daytime helicopter flights landing at the valley floor were canceled when a U.S. Blackhawk was nearly hit with an incoming rocket as it was taking off. After the incident, helicopters were banned from landing anywhere except an observation post about a 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.

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

ABC News' Matthew Cole contributed to this report.

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