The battle, one of America’s deadliest in the Afghan war, demonstrated the bravery and resourcefulness of Romesha and other U.S. troops in carrying out their mission. But it also illustrated the complexity of the Afghan insurgency. And it exposed the flaws of the military’s counterinsurgency strategy at the time and the inertia of higher-ups in dealing with an increasingly untenable situation in the mountainous area near the border with Pakistan.
Before awarding the medal to Romesha, Obama recognized family members of the eight American soldiers who died in the battle and the surviving members of the unit.
“These men were outnumbered, outgunned and almost overrun,” Obama said. He quoted one survivor as having said, “I’m surprised any of us made it out.”
Describing the U.S. outpost as “among the most remote” in the Afghan war, Obama acknowledged the controversy over its existence, calling it “tactically indefensible” and noting that American troops were asked to “defend the indefensible.”
“There are many lessons from COP Keating,” Obama said later. “One of them is that our troops should not — ever — be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible.”
Recounting Romesha’s actions, Obama called the fighting that day “one of the most intense battles of the entire war in Afghanistan.”
After pulling back within the compound and preparing “to make one last stand,” which one soldier later likened to the Alamo, Romesha “decided to retake that camp,” Obama said.
Although wounded by shrapnel when a rocket-propelled grenade round struck a generator behind which he was taking cover, Romesha mounted a counterattack that ultimately succeeded in repelling the assault, Obama said.
“Clint gathered up his guys and they began to fight their way back — storming one building and then another, pushing the enemy back, having to actually shoot up at the enemy in the mountains above,” Obama said. “By now, most of the camp was on fire. Amid the flames and smoke, Clint stood in the doorway calling in airstrikes that shook the earth all around them.”
They eventually turned the tide, rescuing wounded comrades and retrieving the bodies of the fallen.
Calling Romesha “a pretty humble guy,” Obama recalled that when he called to inform Romesha of the award, “he said he was honored, but he also said, ‘It wasn’t just me out there. It was a team effort.’ ”