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Updated Sunday, December 23, 2012 at 07:01 AM

‘The Outpost’: in Afghanistan, defending the indefensible

By Curt Schleier
Special to The Seattle Times

‘The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor’

by Jake Tapper

Little, Brown, 688 pp., $28.99

“The Outpost” carries with it a sense of déjà vu. There are echoes here of Sebastian Junger’s book “War” (and its associated documentary, “Restrepo”), about soldiers billeted in Afghanistan’s dangerous Korengal Valley; like them, the troops of “The Outpost” are stationed in a perilous area surrounded by insurgents.

As in several other recent books — for example, last year’s “Lions of Kandahar” — “The Outpost” also is filled with stories of brave, dedicated, intelligent young Americans put in untenable positions by leaders who at best seem stupid and at worst uncaring.

That is not to say that this is an unimportant book; on the contrary, it may prove one of the most important of the year. By Jake Tapper, senior White House correspondent for ABC News, the book is meticulously researched, excellently written and a must-read for everyone who does more than just mouth the phrase,”I support the troops.”

In the summer of 2006, in Nuristan Province, hard by the Pakistan border, the army set up what came to be called (after an officer who died there) Combat Outpost Keating. It was in a deep valley, surrounded on three sides by steep mountains. It was essentially indefensible.

Worse, the logic for putting American soldiers at risk there was flawed. Supposedly, it was to seal that portion of the border, but as often as not, the mujahedeen simply avoided American troops.

Another rationale for the outpost’s placement was that Keating was near a road. In fact, the road was impassible for all but the smallest vehicles and was in fact where Lt. Keating died trying to get a larger truck through.

It’s easy to go on and on about some of the seemingly inane decisions usually made by senior commanders or politicians. The outpost was so isolated it was difficult to get reinforcements or support there. With the pols concentrating on Iraq, there weren’t enough helicopters, planes or other resources to provide proper support.

The mission to build bridges (literally and figuratively) with and for the locals was a sham. The largely primitive locals didn’t want them, because bridges and roads brought the tax man and “modernizers from Kabul to instruct them on how to treat their women.”

I could go on and on about the Kafka-esque absurdity of Camp Keating, but “The Outpost” is about much more than that. It is about soldiers who believed they’d “be killed the next time [they] rolled out of the gate — or if not killed at least wounded in a way that will forever make life a miserable challenge” — yet go out and do their duty every day.

On Oct. 3, 2009, the roughly 50 soldiers there were attacked by an overwhelming force. Eight died, 10 were wounded and more than 100 enemy troops were killed. Shortly thereafter the base was abandoned.

Curt Schleier reads and writes in New Jersey.






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