Adam L. Silverman PhD
I finally got a chance to see Restrepo two weekends ago. Shortly thereafter I took the opportunity to speak with a senior colleague who was serving in Afghanistan on the joint staff during part of the time period in which the events in Restrepo took place. I specifically wanted to ask him about several items that stood out to me. The first question I asked, of course, was if he’d seen the movie. He said he had and had also read the book. In fact he recommended that I, and anyone else who really wants to get a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of what actually occurred in the Korengal over that year should read the book that goes with the film and expands on what is presented on screen. It also provides much more of the history of how the 173rd got into the Korengal, what its assignments were, and the tactical and operational history of what went on. He also made it clear that to really understand why the video documentary is put together in the way that it is, one really needs to see the interviews that Junger and Hetherington gave explaining why they made the documentary, which was to get as much of the reality of what was actually happening into the faces of those in the US and to try to show just what it is really like for soldiers in Afghanistan. Several of those interviews can be found at:
When I mentioned that, from the point of view of what my job for the Army is and has been, I was concerned when I saw the lack of outreach to the population, the lack of provincial reconstruction teams or human terrain teams or Civil Affairs or even an ODA. My colleague then provided me with some of the background that is missing in the movie, but is present in the book: the 173rd and Battle Company were placed in the Korengal to interdict the enemy, who were using the Korengal Valley as an infiltration and exfiltration route. To that end they were on patrol a lot and were primarily engaged in kinetic operations. While they did do some non-lethal operations with the populace, that wasn’t their assignment. Moreover, the Korengali population is not particularly welcoming; essentially they don’t care who moves through their valley as long as they keep moving, they just want to be left alone. Additionally, the 173rd was considered to be successful in their mission as the enemy stopped using the Korengal Valley as a transit way. Essentially they were there to just do clear and hold of the Korengal – not build.
My colleague also confirmed what I knew: the reason we didn’t see anything of the various enablers and SF – Civil Affairs, Human Terrain, PRTs, and ODAs – is that there weren’t enough of them to go around. In fact there are never enough CA and ODAs. So what happened in the Korengal is that they would essentially show up for a bit, help out whenever possible, and then move on. This is part of the reality of what we’re doing and how the resources don’t match up to the requirements.
So while I agree with COL Lang about many of the things that bother me from an operational and tactical point of view, the reality of what the 173rd was asked to do, where they were asked to do it, and the resources at their disposal makes the events in the Korengal from May 2007 through July 2008 much less clear cut. While interdiction of the enemy certainly falls within COIN, it by itself can not be COIN as we generally discuss it and that puts the actions of the 173rd in a different light.
 Adam L. Silverman is the Culture an Foreign Language Advisor at the US Army War College. The views expressed here are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of the US Army War College or the US Army.
 The first human terrain team got to Afghanistan in early 2007. Through most of 2008 there were only four teams available in that theater as the bulk of the teams were sent to support the Surge in Iraq. By the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 there were over twenty teams in Iraq and additional teams were being sourced for Afghanistan.