Company in the Valley of Death
Or Déjà Vu, it’s Vietnam all over again
by Ron Shirtz
covered the story of Bravo Company, 1-26th INF 3-1 IBCT Infantry,
known by its troops as "Viper Company," stationed in the Korengal
valley in Afghanistan. The Korengal valley also has its own ominous
nickname; "Death Valley." The area is surrounded with many hills
and thick foliage, ideal terrain for insurgents to move undetected
around Viper Company’s perimeter.
footage, it requires no military expertise to see there too
much real estate for the 150 soldiers of Viper’s company to cover.
Per standard military doctrine, Viper Company dutifully sends out
patrols in the surrounding area to maintain an aggressive posture
and interdict enemy movement. But the territory, as mentioned before,
is too large to patrol and secure with the troops available. To
make matters worse, the ground around the hills is made up of loose
shale and rocks, making it difficult for Viper Company’s patrols
to navigate and move about without alerting the enemy of their presence.
The enemy, being native to the area, and unburdened with body armor
and excessive gear, can move about in relative stealth. This gives
the enemy forces freedom of maneuver, and hence, the initiative.
As a result,
the soldiers of Viper Company are obliged make themselves bait to
draw enemy fire, and use air strikes and artillery fire in compensation
for their lack of numbers. They tempt the insurgents to attack them
by manning remote outposts and running convoys. One video segment
covered the drama of 24 soldiers stationed on an exposed hilltop
outpost overlooking the valley. This Viper Company outpost is known
to receive enemy fire daily, sometimes even twice, on any a given
day. The soldiers bravely return fire against suspected targets
in the thick undergrowth, and called in mortar fire to retaliate.
During one intense firefight action, suddenly all the platoon light
machine guns jammed, gravely reducing the platoons suppressing fire
against their opponents. Fortunately the enemy did not press their
advantage, and the soldiers survived the action unscathed.
When I first
saw the camera establishing shot of the Korengal Valley, and Viper
Company’s hilltop outpost, I was stunned by the resemblance it had
with photos of US outposts established near the DMZ during the Vietnam
war. Places with names like Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, and others can
to mind. More frightening was the realization that Viper Company,
despite being in the most modern military in the world, is using
tactics from a 1960’s war – tactics that created large body counts,
but failed to hold ground and win the war. This is not meant to
demean the courage or professionalism of the soldiers of Viper Company,
but because of a flawed strategy at higher levels, they are forced
to fight their father’s war all over again. If the insurgents
someday infiltrate close enough to Viper Company’s remote outpost,
the troops will risk being hit by their own air and artillery support.
If that happens it will be Dien Bien Phu all over again. Ironically,
it is possible over time that Viper Company will be ordered withdrawn
from the area, as the Marines were at Khe Sanh after the siege was
raised. So, in the end, what honor will found in the lives and limbs
lost holding such an untenable position?
In the first
episode I watched, Viper Company had already suffered almost a score
of casualties. In a subsequent episode, one soldier was killed,
and six others wounded in a mortar attack in a building they occupied
down in the valley. Replacements filled the missing ranks, but if
Viper Company’s losses continue, its combat effectiveness will be
in danger of being degraded, as it takes time for green replacements
to seamlessly integrate with the surviving seasoned veterans. Not
to mention the loss of morale, as the company is slowly whittled
away by an unseen enemy, who keeps coming back the next day to try
again. This also happened in Vietnam, which resulted in decline
of combat efficacy of frontline units – resulting in even more casualties
until the new troops gained the automatic combat reflexes needed
suggest assigning more troops to Korengal Valley, or institute 24/7
carpet-bombing. Those options would only serve to reinforce failure.
If the cliché holds true about those who do not learn from
history, then the final outcome can only be the same for Afghanistan
as it was for Vietnam defeat. The answer is to recognize the historical
parallels, and withdraw our conventional forces from Afghanistan.
Unless we do so, we are merely playing the role of Redcoats marching
in the open as we fight the Colonials hiding behind the trees.
A final observation.
One night, after presenting a segment on Viper Company, NBC followed
up with an equally long piece on Sarah Palin’s appearance on Saturday
Night Live. This sudden shift from war reporting to comedy relief
by NBC was an overt act to distract an ADD public from lingering
too long over the harsh realities of an unnecessary war. So while
the news media focuses on how much money the RNC spent on Sara Palin’s
wardrobe, or Obama’s recent marginal gain or loss in the polls,
the soldiers of Viper Company will continue to fight and die in
a lonely place in Afghanistan – as did their military forefathers
Shirtz [send him mail] is
a transplanted Californian teaching Graphic Communications in Northern
(Not "Upstate") New York. His hobbies include arranging deck chairs
on sinking ships, tilting at windmills, and being fashionably late.
© 2008 LewRockwell.com