Martin C. Evans

U.S. Abandons Afghan Valley Where MOH Awardee Died

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm

US troops were never able to win sympathy of residents of the Korengal Valley, who favored the Taliban. Photo: Life Magazine.

The decision to close the only U.S. outpost in the Afghan valley where Medal of Honor awardee Lt. Michael P. Murphy died in a hail of gunfire five years ago has the backing of Murphy’s father.

Meanwhile, a Bronx soldier who spent a year trying to secure the valley said though he understands the decision, he is frustrated by it.

“Michael’s service in that particular area was part of a larger strategic plan of targeting individuals for capture or removal, and not for taking land and holding it,” said Lt. Murphy’s father, Daniel Murphy, of Wading River. “I don’t think Michael’s mission was in any sense to pacify the Korengal Valley.”

Lt. Murphy was leading a four-member team of Navy commandos on a clandestine mission to interdict a high level Taliban leader when his team was ambushed in June, 2005. Murphy and two of his subordinates were chased down a mountainside and killed.

Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of joint forces in Afghanistan, announced today that the last U.S. troops have been pulled from the hotly-contested Korengal Valley.

The valley, a sparsley-populated six-mile slit in the towering Hindu Kush mountains, has served as a conduit for insurgents moving back and forth between Afghanistan and western Pakistan’s lawless frontier.

U.S. troops established the Korengal Outpost several months after Murphy’s death. But despite years of often intense fighting to oust insurgents from the area, the Taliban remains popular among residents in the insular, tradition-bound valley, where tribal loyalties trump  allegiance to Kabul.

Army Spc. Rob Soto, 20, said although he was proud to have served in the valley from July 2008 to July 2009, he never felt U.S. troops gained the loyalty of locals there.

Soto, of Bravo Co.  1Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, said eight members of his company were killed during his time there, including four from his platoon. One of them, Pfc. Richard A. DeWater, 21, of Topeka, Kansas, had been walking 10 feet  from Soto when he was killed by an IED last April 15th.

“I’m a bit frustrated, but I do understand the overall decision,”  Soto said by telephone from where he is currently stationed in Haiti. “Growing up in the Bronx, I knew people who joined gangs for money to support their family. I feel it was the same way with the people in the valley.”

The withdrawal follows a strategy shift announced last year by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who said American troops had been spread too thin. He said America could not win there unless it could demonstrate an ability to keep civilians safe.

In the release, Col. Randy George said: “The area was once very operationally important, but appropriate to the new strategy, we are focusing our efforts on population centers. We’re still able to conduct operations there even without a base, like we do in other remote valleys.”

Murphy, a Purple Heart recipient in Vietnam, said the shift seems reasonable.

“Personally, I have a lot of confidence in General McChrystal and General Petraeus, whom I’ve both met, and the strategy they have adopted in Afghanitstan,” Murphy said. “My reaction to this decision is a non-reaction.”

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