Friday, October 09, 2009

The Battle at Combat Outpost Keating

The Soldiers at COP Keating, a very remote outpost in Nuristan province, were scheduled to be be redeployed to population centric areas of Afghanistan as part of General Stanley McChrystal's counterinsurgency to protect the Afghan people. Nuristan was never a place that coalition troops should have been deployed to in the first place. It is a center for jewel smuggling and the people there don't need or want help from the coalition. It has no strategic value to the war effort.

Here is a piece from Karen Russo that sheds more light on the recent battle.

Apache Pilots Shocked by Size of Attack on Afghan Outpost

Some Keating Survivors Left With Only 'Weapons in Their Hands'

By KAREN RUSSO

JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Oct. 8, 2009—

The pilot of an Apache gunship who flew to the rescue of U.S. soldiers nearly overrun at a remote outpost in Afghanistan last weekend told ABC News today that he had "never seen that large of a force" attacking coalition troops in Afghanistan.

By the time Chief Warrant Officer 3 Ross Lewallen and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Chad Bardwell arrived over the embattled outpost, dubbed Camp Keating, parts were in flames and dozens of insurgents could be seen on the camp's perimeter.

When the battle was over and the fire extinguished, many who survived had nothing left "except the clothes off their backs and the weapons in their hands," one soldier told ABC News.

The pilots and two ground controllers who were at Keating spoke to ABC News, providing fresh details of the weekend battle, the bloodiest engagement in Afghanistan in the past year.

The firefight, which killed eight U.S. troops and left 24 soldiers wounded, came as President Obama is formulating a revised strategy for the now eight-year-long war in Afghanistan.

"When we first showed up and put our sensors on Keating, it was just kind of shock," said Bardwell, 35, of Liman, Wyo., who piloted one of a swarm of Apaches that rushed the base's defense. "All the amount of flames and the smoke and to see that amount of personnel running outside of their wire. It was really kind of shock."

Lewallen added, "I've been on three deployments and I've never seen that large of a force attacking one static position." When he first arrived on the scene Saturday, Lewallen said he could see about 30 fighters just along the camp's perimeter.

The number of attackers has been estimated from 100 to 200. Lewallen said he thought as many as 350 were involved in the assault.

Hunkered down inside the base's operations center were 1st Lt. Cason Shrode, 24, of Dallas, and Sgt. Jayson Souter, 22, of Tuscon, Ariz. The two men were working radios and directing traffic for the Apaches and attack jets that swarmed overhead. But they knew the camp was ablaze and that insurgents had breached the camp's defenses and were inside the wire.

"It's definitely not a comfortable feeling to be at a place where you're most vulnerable, just not a comfortable feeling knowing these guys are right outside," Souter told ABC News.

The camp is located at the base of two steep mountains, allowing the enemy to fire down on the camp with a powerful .50 caliber machine gun and other heavy guns.

The U.S. and Afghan army Soldiers inside Keating had been reduced in ranks because the camp was scheduled to be closed as part of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's strategy of pulling back from sparsely populated areas to protect population centers instead.

The camp's defenders, who endured small attacks several times a week, had been warned by villagers about 10 minutes before the onslaught began. While the camp prepared for a pending attack, soldiers were not alarmed by the warning because it was one of the almost daily stream of tips they received.

"We get reports all the time," Shrode said. "I will say it's 50-50 [the attack] will happen."

The soldiers quickly realized the assault was much larger than any they had ever endured. The camp's generator was hit immediately, plunging the camp into pre-dawn darkness.

Soon the camp was on fire with strong winds fanning it along to additional buildings. Eventually, every building in the camp, except one, was burned.

"We were basically surrounded 360 degrees," Shrode said. "I think there were significant numbers [of enemy fighters] throughout the day." He immediately called for air support.

"We had fixed wing [jets] 20 minutes after fight started," Shrode told ABC News. "We had helicopters 20 minutes later. ... We had so many different assets up in the air ... they were stacked on so many different levels."

Nevertheless, the battle raged throughout the morning. There was a lull about noon, before the attack resumed.

"We had everything we needed. It was just a big attack with a lot of people. Bad things happen, but I think we did well, considering the circumstances." He added that cooperation with the air cover ensured that a "bad situation did not turn worse."

For the pilots, it was, at times, difficult to find the enemy. And because of the smoke, visibility was restricted to a half mile. "One of the primary reasons the fight took so long, it is in extreme terrain," said Lewallen, of Clarksville, Tenn. "There are a lot of rocks and a lot of cover. You really can't detect the enemy until they start moving again."

Three of the attacking Apaches were damaged by insurgent fire, officials said.
By the afternoon, cloud cover moved in, which helped reveal the position of enemy gunners. "At that time we were able to see some of the larger muzzle flashes that were a little higher in the mountains," Lewallen said. "We started to eliminate the larger weapons."

One concern was a report that several large caliber weapons were trained on the helicopter landing zone, waiting for a Medevac flight to take out the wounded. The Medevac chopper didn't arrive until after 9 p.m. that night under the cover of darkness and after those weapons had been located and destroyed.

ABC News had previously reported that when the Medevac flight arrived, some of the wounded refused a chance to leave Keating and kept on fighting. Soldiers also confirmed an earlier ABC News report that some troops gave blood during the fight to be transfused into wounded comrades.

When the attack was over, Souter and Shrode said the soldiers checked on each other and assessed the damage. The fire had destroyed much of the camp.

Lost in the blaze were "cameras, movies, stuff that helps you pass the time ... but there were guys who literally lost everything except the clothes off their backs and the weapons in their hands," Souter said.

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures

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