The KG

 

An Afghan National Army outpost overlooking the Khowst-Gardez road.

The most important infrastructure project going in eastern Afghanistan when I arrived in November 2008 was the widening and paving of the 60-mile mountain-pass road connecting Khowst and Gardez cities. That the elevation of Gardez was 7,000 feet, Khowst 3,000, and the highest elevation along the road was 10,000+ feet illustrates the geographical challenges the road builders faced. That the proposed road ran straight through the ancestral home of the Haqqanis, a clan whose ties to both Al Qaeda and the Taliban made them a powerful adversary to the legitimate government of Afghanistan, suggests the danger.

A relatively gentle portion of the KG Pass, showing the heavy truck traffic that trundled between Khowst and Gardez.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/deals-with-a-devil-to-pave-a-road-to-hell-20090926-g75s.html

The story at the link offers a good overview of the project. Featured in the article are Steve Yahn, the American engineer overseeing construction, and Lieutenant Colonel Rob Campbell, the American commander whose unit was responsible for security in the region. I introduced the two men to each other and spoke with them weekly if not daily.  Being part of the project was a heady experience; the road had been little more than a goat trail since the time of Alexander the Great.

Road construction in the vicinity of Doawmundya, located at the eastern entrance to the KG Pass.

Every mission into the KG was epic. It was a five-hour ride from our camp to the main US outpost located about halfway through the pass. Much of the trip was at 10 mph on bumpy trails that bordered 1000 foot drop-offs. The chance of enemy contact was high. Four ETTs had been killed in the KG just prior to our arrival and we lost one more during our time.

Sayed Kheyl Bridge, on the Khowst-Paktiya border in the heart of the KG Pass.

The US FOB was desolate and remote, and at the same time crowded, noisy, and busy.  A year there spent inhaling the toxic stench of ordnance, diesel, exhaust, and the putrid odor of overworked septic systems I swear would take a decade off anyone’s life.  A second camp about ten miles away was much the same.

With ANA soldiers in the KG Pass.

The company commanders in charge of the American outposts in the KG were the best of the best. Resolute and resourceful, they kept their soldiers’ morale high while riding out daily to confer with locals and battle insurgents.

This US company commander was as stout as they come. With him is the 1/203 ANA Brigade Deputy Commander.

UPDATE:  While poking around the web, I found a companion article to the one I linked to above.  It’s by the same author, and goes deep into the intricacies of the Haqqani clan’s effort to assert their power against rival factions, the Afghan government, and the US forces in the KG Pass.  The article is nine months old now, its views are not necessarily my own, and I can’t even vouch for all the facts.   But I recommend it nonetheless.

http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/world/the-road-to-perdition-20090926-g6kp.html

 

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4 Responses to “The KG”

  1. Chris Brown Says:

    Hey Pete,

    I’ll throw in a few comments on the highway project based on my reading of medieval chronicles!

    In the chronicles, kings are always praised for being lawgivers, city founders, and … road builders. I’m sure that building the road is a strategic affair designed to increase accessibility for military purposes, but it also holds the potential for alternative significations once you are gone. (See your Soviet era tank!)

    With the medieval chronicles, legends sometimes accrete around the roads once they are built and are incorporated into the local and “national” ideologies of the individual chronicles as a part of their arsenal for controlling the future understanding of the territory. For instance, there were four highways among many in twelfth-century England, yet four of them received special attention by the Anglo-Norman chronicler Henry of Huntingdon when he began calling them the King’s Four Highways (c. 1131). Henry emphasizes that Lincoln, the home of Henry’s bishop and patron, is an important stop on two of the routes.

    The roads were never referred to as such during the pre-Norman Conquest (1066) years; but after Henry’s bestowal of the title “King’s Four Highways” on them, they were incorporated by that name into some law codes called the Laws of the Edward the Confessor (c. 1136). (Edward was the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king prior to the Norman Conquest whose death without heir prompted the Conquest of England William the Conqueror.) These “laws” were compiled in Lincoln.

    The Welsh chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth, who basically invented the King Arthur myth we know and successfully passed it off as authentic, created an origin history of the King’s Four Highways around two pre-Arthurian kings of his own invention, Dunvallo Molmutinus and Belinus (c. 1136). Geoffrey was associated with Lincoln and even dedicated another work to the bishop of Lincoln.

    Future chroniclers used or did not use Henry’s or Geoffrey’s versions of the legend, according to their ideological needs. (There is an interesting article in the Journal of Medieval History, vol. 26.4, called “The King’s Four Highways” by Alan Cooper that covers this interesting intersection of legend and law.)

    I’ve probably gone on longer than I should just to make the rather simple point that you were part of a project around which legends will accrete as long as the remnants of your road remains.

    Best,
    Chris

  2. petermolin Says:

    Chris: Thanks for the historical perspective. It’s funny and sad how ignorant of KG Pass history I was while in Afghanistan. For instance, Pat Tillman was killed near the eastern terminus and the Russians fought a gigantic battle near the western end–two facts among 1000s I didn’t learn until after I redeployed. No one teaches you these things and no one’s smart enough to find the answers in the right books beforehand. Unfortunately, it’s all learn as you go. -Pete

  3. Pamela Says:

    My son will be deploying to KG Pass in November or December 2011.
    I’m looking for up to date info. I think they will replace a unit from Fort Campbell. Any info would be great
    MY SON IS ARMY STRONG!!! & I’m an Army Mom staying strong for my son.
    God Bless each and every Man & Women serving in the military!
    Happy Easter

  4. petermolin Says:

    Pamela: Alas, there’s not much I can tell you that you couldn’t find yourself through a Web search. Perhaps your son’s unit or Family Readiness Group might be able to provide more up-to-date information. But my thoughts are with you and your son–as you say, ARMY STRONG! -Pete

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