Tuesday, October 13, 2009
The Korengal Valley
Tuesday, October 13, Korengal Outpost, Kunar Province
After more than a week at FOB Blessing and several cancelled flights later I find myself in the most vicious valley in Afghanistan: the Korengal Valley. It’s a remote valley about 10 km long and surrounded by wooden mountains on all sides. The people that lives are known as the Korengalis and they have their own unique dialect that is different from the Pashtun that is commonly spoken in this part of the country. The mountain slopes are dotted with trees, little villages and terraces of corns and a big stream flows down the valley feeding the inhabitants with water for their crops, livestock and themselves. It’s almost a picture pretty setting and many of the trails resembles hiking trails in a national park. This is easily the greenest and prettiest place I’ve seen in Afghanistan but under that benign façade is the strong presence of insurgents, both religious and criminal, that controls much of the Korengal. The main activity here is the illegal felling of timber and smuggling it from here to Pakistan, often using mules and donkeys to transverse mountain trails in order to avoid detection. Most of the timber is used for making ornate furniture.
Korengal Outpost, aka the KOP, is the biggest American combat outpost here in the Korengal. All the supply, ammunition and men have to come here by helicopters, as the roads are too vulnerable and dangerous. The soldiers here tell me that no one has gone up the last 4 km of the valley. The KOP sits on top of an old sawmill that used to be owned by a local merchant to process his timber. When the Americans took over the mill he lost all the revenue from the illegal timber trade and has since taken up arms to harass the troops there.
Due to the mountainous terrain, all the patrols carried out here are on foot and these are very intense, energy sapping and not to mention that getting shot at is usually part of the routine. However, the military might of the US is always at hand to help out with fighter jets, attack helicopters, heavy artillery, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles. So the question I ask is: how safe is it going on a combat patrol here?