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Opinion: The "Valley of Death" wasn't worth fighting for

No place stands as a symbol of futility more than Afghanistan's Korangal Valley.

Michael Nye in the Korangal Valley. (Courtesy Michael Nye)

BOSTON — Standing at the edge of Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Nye was just emerging from 30 hard days in a place that had come to be called the “Valley of Death.”

He was skinny, dirty, scared and exhausted and he peered out at the jagged mountain range ringed with cedar trees and watched the sun setting and shook his head and then just shrugged in despair.

“I don’t know what the hell we’re doing in there. We’re just sitting ducks,” he said.

That was four years ago and the Korangal was a raging front line in the war in Afghanistan. Nye fought hard there and lost friends. He saw firsthand just how impenetrable was the terrain and understood intimately just how ill-defined was the mission. He saw it all.

Wednesday the last American soldier left the Korangal Outpost and abandoned the base in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province near the border of Pakistan. The military brass in Washington finally came to realize the place just wasn’t worth fighting for.

Nye knew that long before they did.

“I think we all wondered what’s the point of all the losses if you’re just going to ultimately give up the ground again,” said Nye, 33, speaking by telephone Thursday after hearing the news that the military was pulling out of the Korangal.

“To be honest, I never understood what there was to gain down in there,” said Nye, who is still assigned to an Army National Guard unit out of Gardner, Mass., and looking at another tour in Afghanistan that is set to begin this summer.

The military planners don’t spend enough time talking to the grunts like Nye who know the “ground truth.” If they did, it wouldn’t have taken so long to finally see that the strategy in many areas of Afghanistan was deeply flawed and ultimately futile. No place stood as a symbol of that futility more than the Korangal Valley.

The valley was a place of despair and terror. More than a few U.S. soldiers stationed there had turned to drugs, downing prescription painkillers like oxycodone, cocaine and in some cases heroin, according to a non-commissioned officer who served and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“A lot of guys coming out of the Korangal were failing the piss tests,” the officer said, referring to urine tests for drugs that are routinely given to soldiers in the field.