Special Report From Afghanistan: The Frontier of Freedom
A Joint US-Afghan Patrol in Kunar
May 3, 2012. Pfc. Jeffrey Penning of Task Force Red Warrior (1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment) and an Afghan Security Guard pull security during a roving guard at Observation Post Mustang, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. OP Mustang is part of the network of OPs that protects Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostick, the forward-most US position in eastern Afghanistan. (Army Sgt. Trey Harvey)
Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostick, in the rugged mountains of northern Kunar Province, is the frontline of a war without frontlines. Every day, Task Force Red Warrior (1st Battalion, 12th Infantry) is locked in a pitched battle with insurgents to extend the reach of Afghan national security forces into this remote land. Beyond this treacherous frontier lies an untamed land, the foreboding interior of Nuristan province, home to a hostile and insular Afghan minority – the salafist Islamist Nuristanis – who play host to a rogue’s gallery of insurgents from Afghan and Pakistani Taliban fighters to the tattered remnants of al Qaeda.
From four tiny observation posts (OPs), Charlie Company protects the Red Warriors from the insurgent forces stalking the high mountains that overlook the FOB. American forces expend thousands of pounds of munitions every week – from mortars, howitzers, attack helicopters, and bombers – to keep insurgents at bay. Sometimes even this massive amount of firepower is not enough. In May, two artillerymen from the Gunslingers (1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery), while manning their M777 lightweight 155 mm howitzer at FOB Bostick, were killed by a well-placed shot from a Taliban 82mm recoilless rifle that hit their ammunition stores.
But the Red Warriors are giving the insurgents as good as they get. Every week they add to the long list of insurgents killed or captured in northern Kunar. Yet, Lt. Col. Scott Green, the Red Warrior’s commander, would be the first to say that this isn’t enough. With an endless supply of young men from madrasas in Pakistan and the U.S. set to leave at the end of 2014, his most important job is not killing insurgents, but preparing the Afghans to continue the fight without him.
The good news is that the Afghan National Army (ANA) is taking steady steps in that direction. The 3d Battalion, 2d Brigade of the Flood Corps (201st ANA Corps) are living, fighting, and dying right alongside their U.S. partners defending FOB Bostick. Even more impressive, the 3d battalion has pushed a company forward, beyond the furthest U.S. positions, into the volatile Kamdesh River Valley, just inside Nuristan, to reinforce the beleaguered Afghan Uniform Police stubbornly defending their tiny, fortress-like district center. The Afghans are even beginning to break their dependence on U.S. logistics; the fledgling Afghan Air Force has completed multiple resupplies of this position with its own Mi-17 helicopters.
The Afghans are still far from independent. The frequent Taliban attacks, intended to overwhelm Afghan positions in the Kamdesh, are only repelled with the assistance of American close air support. But this Afghan successes – on the doorstep of Nuristan – is beginning to have an impact. Recently Mullah Sadiq, commander of Hezb-i-Islami insurgents in northern Kunar and southeastern Nuristan, like fellow commanders in the lush Nerkh Valley of Wardak Province and the arid plains of Andar in Ghazni Province, ended his insurgency and joined the government cause.
Here at the north-easternmost extent of the 1st Infantry Division’s area of operations, the frontline of freedom might just be moving slowly forward.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.
About the Author
Lt.Col. Pat Proctor is currently deployed to eastern Afghanistan, serving as the chief of plans for the 1st Infantry Division. He is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghan wars and the author of Task Force Patriot and the End of Combat Operations in Iraq. He is also a doctoral candidate in history at Kansas State University.