Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Fighting in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan

April 25, 2009

Our fighting command in Afghanistan, known at present as Combined Joint Task Force 101 (CJTF101), has been operating recently in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley and provided us with some outstanding photography that on its own --- the command says they are "stand alone" --- gives us all insight to what our forces are experiencing over there. I want to present the photos that show soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, the 1-26 Infantry "Blue Spaders," operating in the Koreangal. But first, a brief introduction to the Korengal Valley and then a little history behind the 26th Infantry.

The Korengal Valley (yellow pin) is located just southeast of Nangalam (red pin), Konar province, not far from the Pakistan border and its Northwest Frontier, the latter of which has become a Pakistani-approved haven for the Taliban. The Taliban has implemented Sharia law there with the approval of the Pakistani government. At this moment, Pakistan has had to reinforce its contingent in Peshawar, Pakistan, shown at the bottom-center of the satellite image in order to protect the capital, Islamabad, from a potential Taliban attack. In short, the Korengal Valley is in a rough neighborhood of northeast Afghanistan.

This takes us in a little closer. If you read about the war in Afghanistan even occasionally, you are likely to come across both the Pech and Korengal Valleys. Americans have spilled a lot of blood there, and the enemy has spilled far more. The photos I will present will show you the terrain very close-up, but you can see even from this satellite view some 26 miles above that the terrain is rough.

Enemy forces have been strong in the Korengal for some time. They practice a rigid brand of Islam and they are fierce fighters. They have fought against US forces employing hit-and-run ambushes for some time. Our forces frequently call for air power when engaging the enemy here.

The US operates several outposts in this area. Getty Images John Moore spent time in the valley last November with Viper Company, 1-26 Infantry, the same outfit I will show you in a moment. Moore did a great job. I commend his photography and narratives to you.

I also want to alert you to a professional slide show on an ambush that took place in April 2009 in the Korengal. The photos were taken by Tyler Hicks, with battle description audio by Pfc. Troy Pacini-Harvey and Spc. Soto, all presented by The New York Times. It shows b/1-26 Infantry soldiers caught in an ambush in a river valley by enemy forces situated above them. One soldier, Pfc. Richard Dewater was killed, our forces prevailed, left the area, returned to get Dewater, left again, and returned the next day searching for those who killed their comrade. I hope Mr. Hicks doesn't mind, but I feel compelled to show you one of his photos.

What you are looking at is Spc. Robert Soto running for cover following an explosion. If you look carefully, you can see two others hunkered down behind a large rock off in the upper right quadrant of the photo.

The Korengal has served the enemy as a strategic passage route and has been a deadly place for US forces, who have tried more than once to evict the enemy from the region. Lately work has been underway to connect a new road in the nearby Deyagel Valley to the Korengal. The 1-26 "Blue Spaders" has been working hard to secure the area for the roads to be built and is looking forward to turning the area over to the Afghan National Army (ANA). Interestingly, in 2006 the 10th Mountain Division learned from local elders that these roads were important to them for a multitude of reasons centered on their isolation but they emphasized they needed help to secure them.

Also recently, in mid-December 2008, Afghan commandos supported by US forces captured two Taliban big-shots, Abdul Rahman, a Taliban commander, and Abdul Aziz, a well known enemy in the Konar Province.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Infantry Division, Colonel John Spiszer in command since July 2008, has been responsible for Nangahar, Nuristan, Konar and Laghman provinces, shown as a group in yellow, among the toughest combat areas in country. He remains in this position at this writing. His command is known as Task Force Duke, and the 1-26 is part of it. This entire region links Kabul with Islamabad and ultimately the west to the east through the Khyber Pass. He calls this region "N2KL."

Colonel Spiszer has described the region this way:

"Most of our fighting takes place in the remote areas of the N2KL, including Kunar's Korengal Valley ... This is due to the mountainous and rugged terrain, along the border and in the Hindu Kush mountains, which offers protection for the enemy and a challenge for us to move in, due to the lack of roads and helicopter landing zones.

"In these areas, the enemy is able to hide, move and continue resupply of weapons and money that they need to operate. But they are largely in the remoter capillary valleys, where there are few people, and farther from where progress is occurring.

"While at this time (November 2008), we can't fully prevent them from operating in these remote areas, it is easier to fight them there than these mountains and capillary valleys, because it's away from the populace. And we can safely bring to bear our advantages in artillery and combat air support."

That's enough background for now. Let's go to the photos provided us by CJTF101.

Spc. Andrew Harvey, USA, realizes he still has hours of climbing ahead, as he stares up at the mountain peaks
overlooking Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, during Operation Viper Shake, April 21. Harvey is an infantryman with C/1-26 Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.

Spc. Andrew Harvey, USA trudges across the steep cliff sides of the Korengal Valley's surrounding mountains during Operation Viper Shake, April 21. During the operation the soldiers hiked to elevations of more than 2,500 meters (8,202 ft.) in order to disrupt violent extremists operating in one of Afghanistan's most hostile areas.

C/1-26 soldiers establish a patrol base during Operation Viper Shake. Soldiers battled freezing temperatures.

Cpl. Thomas Bourget, USA watches over the mountains surrounding the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, during Operation Viper Shake, April 21.

Pfc. Matthew Boyd, USA checks the distance to the next objective, during Operation Viper Shake in the Korengal Valley, April 21. Boyd is a forward observer C/1-26 Infantry.

B/1-26 soldiers hike at elevations above 2,500 meters during Operation Viper Shake in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, April 21.

1-26 Infantry soldiers plan their next movement during Operation Viper Shake, April 21. Soldiers hiked to elevations above 2,500 meters, during the operation in order to disrupt violent extremist operating in one Afghanistan's most
volatile areas.

By my count, the battalion has lost 13 men in Afghanistan since August 2008.

Some background on the 1-26 Blue Spaders.

The 26th Infantry was authorized by Congress in 1901. It first went to the Philippines, and then spent most of the next 20 years in the Southwest Pacific, the Mexican and Indian Frontiers, and in Europe. It proved to be so effective against Mexican bandits that it was declared one of only four Army infantry regiments fit for combat as WWI unfolded. It was assigned to the first American Expeditionary Division in June 1917. This expeditionary division was later renamed the 1st Division, "Big Red One."

Street of the Lombardic Cockerel, in ruins, Soissons. Aisne. France. 1917. Presented by

The 26th Regiment fought gallantly in France in WWI, but lost some 900 men in six months. It lost over 1,500 killed and wounded at the battle for Soissons, France alone. It remained in Europe after WWI in an occupation role, but returned to the US. During the ensuing years, it would decline in size.

L/3-16th Infantry march down a fog-shrouded road into Murringen, Belgium. Photographer: T/5 Murray Shub. Presented by US Army.

With the advent of WWII, the 26th led America's first ever amphibious assault in North Africa. It fought at the Kasserne Pass, assaulted Sicily, invaded Normandy, conquered the first German city of the war at Aachen, crossed the Rhine and fought its way all the way to Czechoslovakia.

The 26th remained in Europe and was honored with the distinction of bearing the US National Colors at the Allied Victory in Europe parade and was selected to serve as the guard at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.

The Army reorganized, the 26th Regiment was redesignated the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry and served as a battle group in Europe in the early 1960s.

3/C/1-26 Infantry men with their captured North Vietnamese flag. Presented by

The battalion rejoined the 1st Infantry Division and deployed to Vietnam in 1965. The 26th Regiment Blue Spaders served longer in Vietnam than any other unit of the 1st Division, five continuous years.

Following Vietnam, the 1-26 returned to Germany as part of a forward deployed brigade of Big Red One.

1-26 soldiers near the Serbian border. Presented by

That brigade returned to the US and the 26th took on recruit training. The 1-26 served in Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo.

3/A/1-26 Infantry "Hellraisers," Iraq. Presented by

It has fought in both Iraqi Wars.