The remote U.S. outpost near the Pakistan border that was nearly overrun by insurgents last weekend has been abandoned and destroyed by American troops, military officials announced today.
Americans demolished the base, dubbed Combat Outpost Keating, just days after an all-day fight last Saturday in which eight American soldiers were killed and 24 wounded. U.S. military officials estimate that as many as 100 of the attackers were also killed in the battle, which was the bloodiest in Afghanistan in the past year.
Keating was destroyed so it could not be used by insurgents.
Keating and a second base, Combat Outpost Fritsche, were abandoned this week as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's new strategy to pull back from unpopulated areas and concentrate on defending population centers.
"We had been planning to realign our forces to better protect the population for months. These closings are part of that realignment," said an Army spokesperson Major T.G. Taylor.
One of the commanders in the Keating fight rejected any suggestion that the battle was a defeat and was frustrated that it could appear that way, especially since he estimated that as many as 100 to 150 attackers were killed in the fight.
Lt. Col. Jimmy Blackmon, who commanded the Apache battalion that flew to Keating's defense, told ABC News, "Knowing that American soldiers fought all day long, heroic valorous actions all day long, and a headline would lead the average person to believe that we may have lost that fight. Unequivocally untrue."
The closings were announced as fresh details emerged about the battle for Keating last Saturday from the pilots of two Apache gunships who helped repel the attack and two ground controllers who were inside the base.
By the time Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ross Lewallen and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chad Bardwell arrived over the embattled outpost,, much of Keating was in flames and dozens of insurgents could be seen on the camp's perimeter.
"When we first showed up and put our sensors on Keating, it was just kind of shock," said Bardwell, 35, of Liman, Wyo., who piloted one of a swarm of Apaches that rushed the base's defense. "All the amount of flames and the smoke and to see that amount of personnel running outside of their wire. It was really kind of shock."
Lewallen added, "I've been on three deployments and I've never seen that large of a force attacking one static position."
The number of attackers has been estimated from 100 to 200. Lewallen said he thought as many as 350 were involved in the assault.
Hunkered down inside the base's operations center were 1st Lt. Cason Shrode, 24, of Dallas, and Sgt. Jayson Souter, 22, of Tuscon, Ariz. The two men were working radios and directing traffic for the Apaches and attack jets that swarmed overhead.
But they knew the camp was ablaze and that insurgents had breached the camp's defenses and were inside the wire.
"It's definitely not a comfortable feeling to be at a place where you're most vulnerable, just not a comfortable feeling knowing these guys are right outside," Souter told ABC News.
The camp is located at the base of two steep mountains, allowing the enemy to fire down on the camp with a powerful .50 caliber machine gun and other heavy guns.