US troops are pulling out of Afghanistan's perilous Korengal Valley as part of a new focus on protecting population centers, NATO said today.
The isolated mountainous region of caves and canyons on the eastern border with Pakistan has seen fierce fighting
between NATO and Taliban insurgents, who use it as a route for infiltrating weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.
The repositioning reflects the new thinking among commanders that forces are best used to protect the civilian
population rather than placed in scattered outposts that are highly exposed to militant activity and difficult to resupply
"This repositioning, in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces, responds to the requirements of the
new population-centric counterinsurgency strategy," Lt. Gen. David M Rodriguez, joint commander of international forces in
Afghanistan, said in a statement e-mailed to media.
"The move does not prevent forces from rapidly responding, as necessary, to crises there in Korengal and in
other parts of the region, as well."
The strategic shift coincides with the deployment of an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, most on missions
to drive the Taliban from populated areas and provide enough security to allow local governments to consolidate control and
bring about economic recovery.
Korengal, in eastern Kunar province, has a reputation as one of most dangerous areas in the country, where its
rugged mountainous terrain makes it a perfect insurgent hunting ground. Three Navy SEALs were killed in an ambush
there in 2005, while a helicopter carrying American special forces sent to rescue them was shot down, killing 16 American troops in one of the deadliest single attacks on the US military since the war began in 2001.
Since then, the insurgents have used the cover of caves and trees to attack small American units patrolling the
valley, a hotbed of Taliban support whose native tribes speak a distinct language Korengali and adhere to the austere Wahabi brand of Islam most prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and practiced by Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.