Small Wars Journal

Korengal Valley Observations

Thu, 04/15/2010 - 4:51pm
Korengal Valley Observations

by Bing West

Download the full article: Korengal Valley Observations

In 2007, Alissa Rubin of The New York Times described a "new counterinsurgency doctrine" that consisted of small outposts in the Korengal and elsewhere, in order to patrol among the people. Four years later, the Korengal was abandoned to pursue yet another new counterinsurgency strategy -- small outposts in more heavily populated areas.

The scale of the fighting was not the reason for withdrawing. One American soldier was killed in the Korengal in the last ten months, a loss rate less than in an average rifle company. The strongest technical rationale for the withdrawal was economy of force. The troop-to-population ratio and the logistics for air support were too onerous, regardless of the level of fighting.

More problematic was the strategic rationale. "We're not living in their homes, but we're living in their valley," General McChrystal said, explaining that American soldiers were "an irritant to the people...There was probably much more fighting than there would have been (if US troops had never come.)"

This was true beginning in 2006, leaving a gap of four years in our strategic thinking. Our military strategy made no sense, if US troops were the reason for the fighting in the first place. Hence a political thesis emerged: the xenophobic Korengalis were ungovernable by anyone - except the Taliban. Even that was disputed by the commander of the US battalion responsible for the Korengal. "I don't believe there are any hard-core Taliban in the valley," LtCol Brian Pearl said.

Download the full article: Korengal Valley Observations

Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat marine, has made two dozen extended trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. The author of The Village and The Strongest Tribe, he is currently writing a book about the war in Afghanistan.

About the Author(s)

Bing West served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in the Reagan administration. A graduate of Georgetown and Princeton Universities, he served in the Marine infantry. He was a member of the Force Recon team that initiated attacks behind North Vietnamese lines.

He wrote the counterinsurgency classic, The Village, that has been on the Commandant's Reading List for 40 years. His books have won the Marine Corps Heritage Prize, the Colby Award for Military History, the VFW Media Award and the General Goodpaster Soldier-scholar Award. He has been on hundreds of patrols and operations throughout Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Bing is a member of St. Crispin's Order of the Infantry and the Council on Foreign Relations.


Anonymous (not verified)

Tue, 04/20/2010 - 12:39am

How foolish the assertions that there are no hard core Taliban in the valley seem now. Seems there were plenty.