An ABC News senior White House correspondent chronicles the short life of a doomed American Army outpost.
Combat Outpost Keating, located in northeast Afghanistan, was built in 2006 and hastily evacuated in October 2009; American bombers immediately pounded it to rubble. Intended to serve as a base for the promotion of infrastructure-development projects and the interdiction of insurgents from Pakistan, Keating was near the border but far from American air support. It was clear from the outset that the outpost was poorly located—surrounded by three mountains, on the edge of a road that proved too fragile to support Humvee traffic. Tapper (Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency, 2001, etc.) introduces the men of the three successive American cavalry squadrons who served there, gradually revealing their backgrounds, problems and aspirations, and wives and girlfriends, then describing in detail what insurgent bullets did to their flesh and bone. This is a story of men who were ordered to occupy a remote corner of Afghanistan and unquestioningly did so to the best of their abilities—or some, at the cost of their lives. It also reflects the entire Afghan war in microcosm: too few men holding hostile territory with insufficient support, for goals no one can clearly articulate. This is a narrative, not a polemic, and Tapper patiently lays out the history of what happened at Keating in a gripping, forceful style, describing the daily life of soldiers and the experience of combat. In the process, there also emerges the folly of committing military forces to a poorly defined task in a location that could not be adequately defended or logistically supported. Whatever may have been the merits of the original intervention in Afghanistan, this unadorned, powerful account challenges the purposes and wisdom of America's ongoing military presence there.
A timely indictment of a thoughtless waste of young American lives.