"As the war in Afghanistan completes its tenth year, many U.S. soldiers have been on two, three, tours already to Afghanistan and Iraq, and have witnessed an incredible amount of injuries and death. The troops who started the the 21st century as idealistic teens have been jaded into combat veterans, traipsed the mountains of the Korengal Valley looking for Taliban, held their comrades as they took their last breaths. Many couldn’t place Afghanistan on a map before 9/11, and are now learning the ins and outs of a culture confounding to even those who have spent years there.
I have been covering Afghanistan since it was under Taliban rule in 2000, and have had the honor of going on a countless number of embeds with American troops in the South and the East of the country. I’ve watched the general attitude of the troops shift from complete devotion to our country’s need to be there in the early days, to a constant questioning of what, in fact, we are doing there, and whether it makes any difference at all. Many troops are learning now—years later—about Pakistan’s nefarious hand in the region, and questioning why we continue losing our men to Taliban ambushes and improvised explosive devices, when very little has changed in the country in the past ten years.
In the fall of 2007, I spent two months in the Korengal Valley with correspondent Elizabeth Rubin for the New York Times Magazine, and the 173rd Airborne Division, Battle Company. At the end of the embed, we accompanied the troops on Operation Rock Avalanche, a six-day U.S.-led offensive in which the mission of American troops was to hunt Taliban fighters in the Korengal Valley—to lure them out of hiding to ultimately kill or capture them. Twice during the mission, we were airlifted onto the sides of mountains, and spent the subsequent days walking, exploring potential Taliban hideouts, waiting for contact.
On October 23, the Taliban ambushed us from three sides, and overran one of the troops’ positions on the spur of a mountain, killing Staff Sergeant Larry Rougle, and wounding two other infantrymen. In April 2010, the U.S. Military closed the Korengal outpost. Forty-two American service men, including Sgt. Rougle, died fighting in the Korengal, and hundreds were wounded.” (Photo by Lynsey Addario)