In the northeast of Afghanistan, high in the Hindu Kush mountains, is Kunar province, and further north, Nuristan. They sit along the border with Pakistan, and are almost inaccessible.
The peaks are high and desolate and the valleys are narrow and steep. Huge rocks and boulders provide cover from US drones, bombers, jets and helicopters. The area is shrouded in woods, akin to jungle in many places, making it perfect terrain for Taliban ambushes.
Since US troops arrived in Afghanistan 10 years ago, this area has seen sustained and intense violence. In Nuristan, in 2008, a small remote US base was overrun in Wanat. 9 US soldiers were killed, and 27 injured. Just a year later Combat Outpost Keating was also overrun. This time 8 US soldiers died, with a further 22 wounded. Days after this second overrun, the Americans pulled all their forces out of Nuristan. The Taliban claimed a huge victory, although the US military countered that the base had already been scheduled for closure.
In Kunar, the Korongal Outpost and the Pech River Valley also saw fierce fighting. In 2010, amid much controversy, the area was handed over to Afghan control, and US troops withdrew entirely. Within a few months ,the Afghan soldiers had abandoned many outposts, and the area had once again become a hotbed for insurgent activity.
In Spring 2011, 2/27 Infantry was posted to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostick, in Kunar. Known as the “Wolfhounds,” 2/27 pushed out into areas under Taliban influence, and slowly wrested control from them.
I travelled to Kunar and spent a month with the “Wolfhounds” in November and Dec 2011. Winter usually draws the fighting season to a close, and I wanted to look at what had been achieved over the previous months. Also, I wanted to see if the Americans were going to use the winter to reinforce and consolidate their gains, much as had been done the previous winter down south in Kandahar. All in all, I expected a quiet time.
This feature documents the squalid conditions of observation point Mace, the cramped environment of the soldiers at Checkpoint 2.5 and the work of the commanding officer to win the hearts and minds, and help, of the local people.
A full text by the photographer is available.