Award of Excellence
"Afghanistan: The Tangi Valley"
By most accounts, Wardak, a province on the doorstep of Kabul, has become a hot bed of the anti-coalition insurgency in Afghanistan. While US Army efforts to stifle the insurgency have focused primarily on the southern and eastern provinces that border Pakistan, Wardak has been left to simmer. Between the US-led invasion in 2001 and early 2009, there was a thinly spread ground force of no more than one company of US troops - approximately one hundred and twenty soldiers to secure the entire province.
The Tangi Valley, an area in southern Wardak devoid of central government presence, had not seen a permanent coalition force until the arrival of the US Army's Apache Company on July 12 of 2009. This 102-man company is part of the US Army's 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat team, 10th Mountain Division. In the weeks before my arrival in late August of 2009, Apache Company had seen twenty-six soldiers injured and one killed in action, all from Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Troop morale was low. Military intelligence in the Valley believed the insurgents to be local, with little outside influence. The locals knew the terrain and had learned to pick their fights. They knew they were outmatched in a gun fight with American forces, so their fight was waged with IED's planted in the one road that winds the through the Valley, and in cornfields or on grassy trails.
After seeing friends get injured and lose limbs to an enemy they would never knowingly see, the soldiers of Apache Company had grown disillusioned with the war. Many of them had joined the army in the spirit of post 9/11 nationalism, but they had trouble seeing how the fight in the Tangi related to a larger war on terror. In a valley where the locals would not sell the troops cigarettes or food, or take paying jobs working on the base, it was clear to the soldiers that they were not wanted. It has been almost eight years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and there is no resolution in sight.
A US Army soldier from 3rd Platoon, Apache Company, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat team, 10th Mountain Division, surveys a road with a Long Range Acquisition Sight, on an observation post in the Tangi Valley, Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on September 4, 2009.