Combat Outpost Keating was a small American military outpost in Nurestan Province, in Afghanistan.
After an attack on October 3, 2009, where the base was nearly overrun, and 8 Americans and 4 Afghans defenders were killed, the base was abandoned. Two Americans, Staff Sergeants Clinton L. Romesha and Ty Carter were awarded the Medal of Honor for their role in defending the base.
The U.S. soldiers killed in the battle were: Justin T. Gallegos (Tucson, Arizona), Christopher Griffin (Kincheloe, Michigan), Kevin C. Thomson (Reno, Nevada), Michael P. Scusa (Villas, New Jersey), Vernon W. Martin (Savannah, Georgia), Stephan L. Mace (Lovettsville, Virginia), Joshua J. Kirk (South Portland, Maine), and Joshua M. Hardt (Applegate, California).
Amy Davidson Sorkin, writing in The New Yorker, tried to answer the question why the base had not been moved, when it was found to be unsuitable. She noted two claims the military put forward in its report: first, the resources to relocate the base had not been available because the brigade was concentrating on guarding a village that Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, considered strategically important. Second, the search for Bowe Bergdahl, in June 2009, had used up so many resources none were available to address the base’s unsuitable location.
About 3:00 am on October 3, insurgents ordered all Kamdesh villagers to leave the area. At 6:00 am, the fighters opened fire from all sides of the outpost with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, immediately putting the Americans’ mortar pit out of action. Observation Post Fritsche was attacked simultaneously, limiting available support from that position. Coalition forces responded with small arms fire, mortars, and by the afternoon, helicopters, heavy artillery, and airstrikes.
The attackers overran Keating’s perimeter defenses about 48 minutes into the battle. Breaches occurred at a latrine area close to the perimeter wire; also the main entrance where civilian Afghan Security Guards were overwhelmed; and from the eastern side—where Afghan National Army soldiers were stationed. Despite the efforts of two Latvian military advisors, who tried to convince the Afghan National Army forces not to flee, the Afghan defenders quickly broke and ran. U.S. soldiers reported that none of the Afghan soldiers held their ground. During and after the battle, some of the Afghan soldiers stole items, including digital cameras and protein drinks, belonging to American soldiers at the base.
Once inside, the attackers set fire to the base, burning down most of the barracks. Within the first hour, the American and Latvian defenders had collapsed to a tight internal perimeter, centered on the two buildings that were not burning. Regrouping there, they pushed out teams to retake much of the outpost. They expanded the perimeter all the way back to the entry control point and to the buildings on the western edge of the outpost, which became their final fighting position. U.S. air support directed by Sgt. Armando Avalos and Sgt. Jayson Souter, including attack helicopters, A-10s, a B-1 bomber, and F-15 fighters, destroyed the local mosque, where much of the insurgents’ heaviest fire originated. Once OP Fritsche soldiers gained control of their mortar pit, Sgt. Avalos began directing indirect support to help the defense of COP Keating. Two USAF F-15E fighter bombers circled overhead, led by Captains Mike Polidor and Aaron Dove and their wingman, 1st Lt. Justin Pavoni and Captain Ryan Bone, for almost eight hours, helping coordinate airstrikes by 19 other aircraft.
The insurgents began to retreat later in the day. Quick reaction forces (QRF) from 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment did not reach the outpost until 7:00 pm that day, while insurgents remained in parts of the outpost as late as 5:10 pm. Relief had been slowed in reaching COP Keating due to a lack of available aircraft and density of terrain. Members of 10th Mountain Division’s 1-32 Infantry Regiment were air lifted to the nearest helicopter landing zone on OP Fritsche and arrived at approximately 2:00 pm, as recalled by a soldier on scene. After assisting with securing the OP from potential follow on attacks, members of the Quick Reaction Force descended from the mountain’s peak to COP Keating on foot. While en route the Platoon encountered a planned ambush on the side of the mountain resulting in three confirmed enemy KIA at approximately 6:00 pm. After dispensing with the enemy, QRF continued their descent and entered the outpost at approximately 7:00 pm. At such time the platoon cleared the remaining areas of the outpost which members of 3-61 had not yet retaken. Within moments of entry, members of the QRF discovered and confirmed the death of Sgt. Joshua Hardt, who until this time had been MIA. Follow-up attacks attempted by Taliban forces were subsequently thwarted by U.S. aircraft.
Eight U.S. soldiers were killed and 27 wounded; eight Afghan soldiers were wounded, along with two Afghan private security guards. The U.S. military estimated that 150 Taliban militants were also killed as a result of repulsing the assault.
American forces had already planned to pull out of the area as part of a plan to move forces to more densely populated areas, so closure of the base was imminent when the attack occurred. The attack accelerated those plans, with the troops’ departure taking place so quickly after the battle that some munitions were abandoned. The outpost’s depot was promptly looted by the insurgents and bombed on October 6 by a B-1 bomber in an effort to destroy the lethal munitions left behind.”
On October 5 and 6, Coalition troops conducted operations in the area in an attempt to locate and destroy the Taliban forces responsible for the attack on the outposts. Another 10 Afghan soldiers and 4 Taliban were killed during these operations.
Following the battle, the U.S. Central Command conducted an investigation on what had occurred, led by US Army General Guy Swan. The report, released to the public in June 2011, concluded “inadequate measures taken by the chain of command” facilitated the attack, but praised the troops fighting at the base for repulsing the attack “with conspicuous gallantry, courage and bravery.” Four U.S. Army officers—a captain, a major, a lieutenant colonel, and a colonel—who oversaw COP Keating were admonished or reprimanded for command failures. In the report released to the public, the U.S. Army concealed the names of the four disciplined officers.