US military: No threat from abandoned Afghan base

KABUL (AP) — A video appearing to show the Taliban in control of a mountain outpost deserted by American troops last week in eastern Afghanistan does not cast doubt over the decision to pull out of the Korengal Valley, the U.S. military said Monday.

The footage aired on Al-Jazeera shows armed men who identify themselves as Taliban fighters and villagers walking through a former U.S. base in the eastern valley, from which the last of about 120 U.S. troops withdrew last week.

The isolated region of caves and canyons on the mountainous border with Pakistan has been the scene of near-daily battles between U.S. troops and insurgents, who use it as a route for bringing weapons and fighters into Afghanistan.

In the video, militants said they now control the entire 6-mile- (10 kilometer-) long Korengal valley in eastern Kunar province.

A U.S. military spokesman said it was unclear from the video if Taliban fighters controlled the area and argued that even if they did, it wouldn't change the military's decision to withdraw troops.

Commanders have repeatedly said that troops were being pulled out of the valley because it was not seen as strategically important and the soldiers would be better used in more populated areas.

"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," said the spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks.

One bearded man in the video wore an ammunition belt over his shoulder that he said the Taliban found at the outpost, along with many boxes of U.S. ammunition. Shanks said this was impossible, saying that American troops had removed all ammunition, weapons and tactical equipment, such as night-vision goggles, before leaving.

The militants also said they had captured valuable fuel, but a spokesman for U.S. forces in the east said that the fuel and the living quarters had been left intentionally to the area residents.

American forces went to local elders before they left and told them they would leave buildings, generators, a crane, and about 6,000 gallons (23,000 liters) of fuel to benefit villagers, said Maj. T.G. Taylor , a spokesman for Task Force Mountain Warrior.

"We said, 'Hey we're leaving this. This is for you. This is for the Korengalis,'" Taylor said.

He also said that any important fighting positions or observation posts were destroyed before the troops left.

Many of the insurgents in the isolated valley were locals, Taylor said, making it difficult to determine whether the men claiming to have taken the area were outsiders. The area's 4,500 residents have long been hostile to central authority and outsiders, even those from other parts of Afghanistan.

Officers said at the time of the pullout that one base at the northern end of valley would remain staffed to block insurgent movements into the Afghan interior.

Taylor said that the U.S. could easily attack the abandoned fighting outpost if they felt there was any threat coming from it.

"We have two companies that can do an air assault there anytime we want," he said.