KABUL — Taliban fighters swarmed over a mountaintop base abandoned last week by the U.S. military following some of the toughest fighting of the Afghan war, according to footage aired Monday by a major satellite television station.
The video by Al-Jazeera television is a morale booster for Taliban fighters, though the United States insists the decision to withdraw from the base in the Korengal Valley was sound and the area has no strategic value.
The footage showed armed men walking through the base, which was strewn with litter and empty bottles, and sitting atop sandbagged gun positions overlooking the steep hillsides and craggy landscape. Fighters said they recovered fuel and ammunition. But a U.S. spokesman said ammunition had been evacuated and the fuel handed over to local residents.
"We don't want Americans, we don't want Germans or any other foreigner. We don't want foreigners, we want peace. We want Taliban and Islam — we don't want anything else," one local resident said on the tape.
Another man identified by Al-Jazeera as a local Taliban commander said the militants intended to use the base for attacks on U.S. forces.
Maj. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan, said that U.S. troops destroyed major firing positions and observation posts before leaving and that if militants tried to use the base "we have two companies that can do an air assault there anytime we want."
The pullout last week of the remaining 120 U.S. soldiers from the Korengal Valley was part of a strategy announced last year by the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to abandon small, difficult-to-defend bases in remote, sparsely populated areas and concentrate forces around major population centers.
Many of those outposts were established years ago to monitor Taliban and al-Qaida infiltration from Pakistan but proved difficult to resupply and defend.
In October, about 300 insurgents nearly overran a U.S. outpost in Kamdesh, north of the Korengal Valley, killing eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers. It was the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces since an attack on another remote outpost in July 2008, when nine Americans died.
"When we repositioned our forces we knew that there was a real possibility of insurgent forces going into there, but we still believe that decision was the correct one based on the resources that we have available and the objectives that we want to achieve," a U.S. spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said.
The withdrawal from Korengal, which U.S. troops dubbed the "Valley of Death," marked the end of near daily battles with insurgents in the 6-mile valley in Kunar province. More than 40 U.S. troops were killed there over the last five years.