Days after the bloody battle that has come to be called the "Black Hawk Down" of Afghanistan, US troops left the the isolated Afghan village of Wanat. Fourteen months later, they haven’t returned, giving the Taliban free reign in the Waygal Valley—but the retreat is starting to look like a strategic success. Rather than fight to maintain a remote and vulnerable base, officials have watched friction between the Taliban and Wanat residents grow. Village elders are turning to American forces for help, with the Americans demanding help in turn.
The dangers of persistence are illustrated all too vividly a few miles south in Korengal Valley, where troops have spent years under constant attack from villagers paid off by the Taliban. “Right now, we are the economy in the Korengal Valley,” says the area’s US battalion commander, who’s decided to withdraw from there, too. "I have a full-sized company dedicated to a valley with a population of 4,200 people," he said. "I am sure there are valleys in Afghanistan with 100,000 people and no US troops. You have got to ask yourself: Why? Why is this one valley so strategically important?"