In my most recent blog entry, I stated that I found it laughable the idea that the Taliban and insurgents could conduct coordinated assaults and challenge US forces on the conventional battlefield...and then a day later they go and kill eight soldiers in a conventional-type attack. Everyone out there knows that Nuristan is full of insurgents. The terrain in Nuristan so severe that anyone could hide out there for years without getting caught, and Coalition forces have virtually no presence in the province. The US Army unit we were partnered was often on reserve-alert to support police stations up that way which were in extremis.
It's very disheartening for everyone to see us lose that many guys in one battle, but I stand by the assertion that with decent terrain selection and unit-tactics this type of thing will not happen. When you build a small outpost in an area where insurgents can shoot down upon you, with few to no supporting positions to help you, then the position is asking for trouble. In Kunar, we had observations posts up further on the hills, or even at the very top in some cases, and other mutually supporting positions, just to prevent something like insurgents being able to surround us and shoot down upon us.
Sounds like the plan is to remove the post in Kamdesh and other similar ones. I can tell you once an outpost like that is gone, then the area it occupied is no longer going to be visited by the Coalition, and the territory is essentially Taliban-territory at that point, although it sounds like it already was given the number of fighters they had gathered, and the fact that the US Army unit in the area didn't even patrol in the local village. They say the plan is to push those troops into the larger population centers, which sounds all well and good, but I always thought the idea behind those mountain posts was to fight the enemy in the mountains and more sparsely-populated areas rather than fight them in the larger cities and villages.
The fact is, the whole strategy in north-eastern Afghanistan is extremely predictable and reactive. Basically, the US Army and ANA tactics are to build a firebase somewhere and then wait for it to get attacked. Patrols last a couple of hours and stay within sight of the base. If an "operation" is conducted it never lasts more than a couple of days. In the past, units conducted operations that lasted more than a month...the entire time outside their bases in the villages and mountains. The Marines in Helmand keep moving and sleep in ditches they've dug themselves before moving on somewhere else the next day.
The Army might want to think about what they need to do take the initiative in this war. Simply inhabiting a firebase, waiting for it to get attacked, and then calling in fire support, does not appear to be an effective, nor risk-free, way to conduct a war. The insurgents have a nearly unlimited supply of manpower from Pakistan. The idea in warfare to break the enemy's will to fight, not just kill a bunch of guys. By allowing the insurgents to always have the initiative, and topping it off with abandoning these firebases (which will be perceived as weakness, as it should be) we'll do nothing but put wind in their sails, which will only lead to more of the same.
So yes, I'm criticizing the approach of building all these firebases, and I'm also criticizing the idea of abandoning them. We need to put more thought into where we put these bases if we're going to put them anywhere, so we don't give up propaganda victories when we close them. In Iraq, when we left bases, they were turned over to the Iraqi security forces, not just abandoned. Ideally, we'd patrol in unpredictable places for extended periods of time out of larger bases in larger population centers. Why build a base when you can inhabit local homes for a few days while you're there and then move on somewhere else? Why use all your manpower protecting something...? Better off projecting something. I criticize the Army for closing firebases because I know they don't do large-scale ops of lengthy duration, at least not the units I was partnered with. Without a firebase in an area, they'll have no almost no effect on the area (unless a paved road happens to run right to the area), and the territory is ceded to the insurgents.