Afghanistan Dispatch

A Beautiful View, But Still A Battle Zone

A member of the Afghan Security Guards looks over the Kunar River Valley from Observation Post Mustang in Kunar Province, northeastern Afghanistan.

A member of the Afghan Security Guards looks over the Kunar River Valley from Observation Post Mustang in Kunar Province, northeastern Afghanistan. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David Gilkey/NPR

Observation Post Mustang sits high in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border. At an altitude of 5,600 feet, the soldiers stationed there from the Army's 2-27th Infantry Regiment have a stunning view of the Kunar River Valley far below.

But it's not all just beautiful vistas and clean mountain air. On Sunday, the forward operating base that sits in the valley below took enemy fire. NPR's David Gilkey, who is embedded with the 2-27th Infantry, photographed American soldiers as they engaged in a firefight with insurgents across the valley.

  • Members of the Army's 2-27th Infantry Regiment from Hawaii talk outside the buildings at Observation Post Mustang in Kunar Province, northeastern Afghanistan.
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    Members of the Army's 2-27th Infantry Regiment from Hawaii talk outside the buildings at Observation Post Mustang in Kunar Province, northeastern Afghanistan.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • A member of the Afghan Security Guards keeps a watchful eye on the mountains surrounding the Kunar River Valley.
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    A member of the Afghan Security Guards keeps a watchful eye on the mountains surrounding the Kunar River Valley.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Robert Hicks pets Cookie, a local Afghan dog that has adopted the men who stay at Observation Post Mustang.
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    Pfc. Robert Hicks pets Cookie, a local Afghan dog that has adopted the men who stay at Observation Post Mustang.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Spc. Jermaine Aikens (left), Sgt. Eric Scharf (center) and Pfc. Michael Montierth (right) talk at Observation Post Mustang.
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    Spc. Jermaine Aikens (left), Sgt. Eric Scharf (center) and Pfc. Michael Montierth (right) talk at Observation Post Mustang.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Darren Jaworski (left) hands Spc. Aaron Frederick a mortar round while under fire.
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    Pfc. Darren Jaworski (left) hands Spc. Aaron Frederick a mortar round while under fire.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Natan Martinez (left) and Spc. Frederick (right) fire an explosive round at a suspected enemy.
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    Pfc. Natan Martinez (left) and Spc. Frederick (right) fire an explosive round at a suspected enemy.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Martinez fires a machine gun at an enemy fighting position, while insurgents fire at another American base in the valley bellow.
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    Pfc. Martinez fires a machine gun at an enemy fighting position, while insurgents fire at another American base in the valley bellow.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Pfc. Jaworski covers his ears as an explosive round is fired.
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    Pfc. Jaworski covers his ears as an explosive round is fired.
    David Gilkey/NPR
  • Afghan Security Guards look over the Kunar river valley.
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    Afghan Security Guards look over the Kunar river valley.
    David Gilkey/NPR

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Observation Post Mustang provides a position to keep watch on the other U.S. bases in the valley below, as well as the highway that runs along the Kunar River. The area is used by insurgent fighters as a infiltration and smuggling route from Pakistan, which is just over the mountains to the west. "This is probably the most important region in Afghanistan," says Gilkey, "because it's the frontline to stop insurgents coming over border from Pakistan."

The U.S. soldiers are not up there alone. They are joined by local Afghan security forces — men from local villages — who have proven to be invaluable.

"They know the terrain, they know where people come and go from, where people should be and not be," explains Gilkey. "They sit up here with the guys from 2-27th on the top of this little tiny hilltop and provide the Afghan presence here."

That hilltop is only accessible by helicopter — there are sheer drops in every direction. So, as Gilkey points out, they really do have an eye on this important, and dangerous, part of the world.

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