I was laying prone on the rocky ground, something I hardly ever did in Afghanistan.
My heart pounded so loudly I thought it would break through my chest. I had never been more nervous. I feared for my life.
I was sitting at the rocky outcrop on the southern part of the Korengal Outpost, the KOP. Taliban swarmed up the hillside, surrounding me. The men who were with me fell back; I couldn't stem the retreat. I knew at that moment I would die on that hill.
And then I woke up, alone in my apartment in Vicenza, Italy. It was the worst nightmare I'd ever had. In my dream, I had returned to the Korengal Valley, later nicknamed the "Valley of Death." I only spent a couple months in the Korengal, but it felt much longer. The place haunted me before I arrived in Afghanistan; it still haunts me.
All these memories came back when I saw the photos of the Korengal Valley last week. Instead of US forces fighting for the population, it is now controlled by the insurgents I fought against.
The US Army, under General McChrystal, decided to move all troops out of the Korengal last week. If I am being intellectually honest, it makes sense from a counter-insurgency perspective. But while I can understand the move rationally, emotionally it just feels wrong.
So here is a collection of links about the Korengal Valley and the recent decision to pull out of the valley:
I first heard about the Korengal Valley through this Nightline piece by Sebastian Junger. I watched it in Vicenza, Italy a few days before I left for Afghanistan. This footage made the war very real, and very sudden.
Sebastian Junger's recent New York Times OpEd is probably the most thoughtful of the accounts about our retreat/retrograde/draw-down in the Korengal.
For the best images, this photo gallery by Time captures the essence of the valley very well. It was taken after Battle Company and the ROCK had left Afghanistan, but the people are still the same.
Finally, Jeff Schneider captures the fundamental conundrum of the Korengal in this piece for the Huffington Post.