The attack came six days before the U.S. military was scheduled to close Combat Outpost Keating, which a Pentagon review later found should never have been established in the first place. In the months after the assault, the military tried to strike a deal with an insurgent leader known as Mullah Sadiq, the local commander of the radical Islamist Hezbi-i-Islami Gulbuddin militia, which had a tenuous and at times conflicting relationship with the Taliban. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Sadiq’s group was among the mujaheddin forces backed by the CIA. But in October 2009, U.S. commanders believe, some of Sadiq’s forces joined Taliban fighters in carrying out the attack on Keating.
Romesha (pronounced ROM-a-shay), now 31 and originally from Lake City, Calif., joined the Army in 1999 and served tours in Kosovo, South Korea and Iraq before deploying to Afghanistan. He left the Army in April 2011 and lives with his wife and three children in Minot, N.D., where he works as a field safety specialist in the oil industry.
At Combat Outpost Keating in 2009, he and about 50 other Americans, two NATO trainers from Latvia and an Afghan army unit manned a small, vulnerable compound that was surrounded by peaks of the Hindu Kush mountains, from which insurgents routinely fired down at the defenders. U.S. troops likened it to trying to fight from the bottom of a paper cup.
Military leaders came to realize that the post was too difficult to defend and the area too dangerous for provincial reconstruction teams. But plans to close Keating were delayed amid concerns about the message that such a retreat would send and its possible ripple effects on the political and security situation in Afghanistan.
When the Oct. 3 attack began at dawn, Romesha and other soldiers at Keating quickly realized that they were dealing with something far more serious than the usual sniping. More than 300 insurgents armed with B-10 recoilless rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, antiaircraft machine guns, mortars, sniper rifles and small arms attacked from every direction and quickly breached the compound.
Afghan troops soon abandoned their posts, leaving the Americans and Latvians pinned down.
“Every position was overwhelmed,” Romesha later explained, according to an account on the Army’s Web site. From the start, all the U.S. fighting positions were “pretty ineffective.”