In the beginning, soldiers at Combat Outpost Keating were upbeat. They’d distributed lots of clothing, first aid, and school supplies to the local villagers. “Our friendship grows every day,” reads one dispatch found in the Wikileaks document trove. But as time goes on, documents pieced together by the New York Times paint a much bleaker story. The northeastern outpost was positioned on low ground, surrounded by hills on all sides. Insurgents controlled all the roads to the base. Afghan forces offered little help: Local police went unpaid, and often wouldn’t work.
One night in 2007, a letter appeared posted on a mosque. Signed “We the Mujahedeen,” it listed enemies, and promised attacks to come. Soon, insurgents were murdering prominent officials, and development halted. Last summer, the Obama administration decided to abandon the base, but before that could happen, the insurgents launched a massive assault. The documents capture the panic of the soldiers, begging the base for air support, as they are bombarded from the hills by heavy fire. When the dust cleared, eight soldiers had died. The Americans fled soon after, leaving arms and ammunition behind. Militants promptly looted the base.