Progress in the Pech Valley – Taking Two Steps Forward by Taking a Step Back
Will Keola Thomas – Afghanistan Study Group
Reports that US forces are finally withdrawing from the Pech River Valley may offer a glimpse of what progress looks like in Afghanistan. The Pech Valley is a remote, isolated, and according to the US military itself, strategically unimportant patch of territory in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. Strategically unimportant, and yet, since 2003 American forces have suffered 103 combat deaths with hundreds more wounded and have shelled out millions of dollars in order to maintain a tenuous presence there. The result: the Pech is the same as it ever was except with a few more paved roads (and more instability).
As Lt. Col. Joseph Ryan, the commander of the 800-soldier battalion deployed in the Pech, told the Washington Post in December of last year: “There is nothing strategically important about this terrain. We fight here because the enemy is here. The enemy fights here because we are here…The best thing we can do is pull back and let the Afghans figure this place out.”
American officials prefer to describe the withdrawal, which began on Feb. 15 and will take several months to complete, as a “realignment” that will provide better security for the Afghan people. Their logic is as follows: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; the resources deployed there could be better used in other areas; and there are not enough troops to decisively defeat the insurgency there anyways.
This leads one to wonder, what conclusions might policymakers reach if they applied this logic consistently to the whole of American involvement in Afghanistan?