The region's previous brigade commander, Colonel Pat Donahue, hadn't thought Nuristan had much strategic value, so conventional forces hadn't been posted there, and no one had troubled to find out much about the native people, the Nuristanis, a distinct and outlying ethnic group within Afghanistan. In a departure from his predecessor's policy, Donahue's replacement — Colonel John "Mick" Nicholson, the commander of the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade, known as the Spartan Brigade — ordered the establishment of small outposts throughout the area in the summer of 2006, in an attempt not only to stop the Taliban fighters who were streaming in from Pakistan, often with bushels of weapons, but also to win over the locals, who were predisposed to a suspicion of outsiders.
Lockner had just returned from Forward Operating Base Naray, in Kunar Province, where he'd met with officers of the 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, or "3-71 Cav." They'd told him of their plan to set up an outpost in the Kamdesh District of Nuristan Province, for which he would be in charge of identifying suitable helicopter landing zones. The new base would sit adjacent to the Nuristan hamlet of Urmul. A small settlement missing from most maps, Urmul was home to fewer than forty families of Nuristanis, or roughly two hundred people, who lived in houses made of wood and rock and mud sealant. The residents were primarily subsistence farmers trying to eke out a living through both crops and livestock, but the U.S. Army knew little more than that about them. Coalition forces likewise had next to no intelligence about the enemy in Nuristan — its numbers, its location, its intentions, or, most important, its capabilities — which was one of the reasons the brass was pushing to build a base there. This was the essential difficulty of the task at hand: the higher-ups in the U.S. Army needed to know about the enemy in this unexplored province, so in order to learn as much as they could, they were going to stick a small group of troops in its midst. For all Lockner knew when he flew over Urmul to reconnoiter, the hamlet might have been Osama bin Laden's secret compound.