It's been more than 10 years since we entered Afghanistan. And it is still far from a friendly place. Whole empires, nations and communist Russia have all been brought to their knees by the area, which is actually slightly smaller than Texas. (Iraq, on the other hand, has calmed down dramatically during this time.) What are the most dangerous places inside Afghanistan? Here are five hells on earth.
Camp Dwyer, Helmand Province
For the Marines that have had the experience of being assigned to this post in the middle of nowhere, they affectionately refer to it as “Hell, Man.” More Coalition Forces have been lost here, in the Helmand Province, than any other province in Afghanistan. Though this post was significantly expanded in 2009 and continues to grow, the modern comforts of home are not to be found here. These troops are thankful for what they call “a luxury,” such as a post office. On the camp, a memorial stands as a monument to the sacrifice this outpost has cost our nation in heroes, and it serves as a reminder of the death that lurks in the shadows.
Combat Outpost Zerok, Paktika Province
Seven thousand feet above sea-level—enough to make a civilian wheeze for breath just walking around—Combat Outpost Zerok is nestled within the Paktika Province and is as primitive as you can get. Days are much quieter now than they were last year. The 101st Airborne pulled off daring but duly planned operations to eliminate the stronghold of the insurgent safe-haven. Though these operations were a huge success, the continued flow of enemy forces and the difficult location of this tentative outpost continue to plague our warfighters. As a reminder of the days gone by, a memorial to the July 4th assault, which took the lives of two soldiers and wounded twenty, stands alongside the shrapnel garden as testaments to days gone by. Though it appears the fight has gone out of the enemy, with the closing of the Korengal (see Restrepo), this remains one of the only isolated mountain valley outposts, truly the tip of the spear.
Sangin District, Helmand Province
Over 100 British troops, a third of all their casualties for the entire war, were sent to their graves defending the Helmand Province, which some have described as a “Poppy Town,” as it is notoriously a central destination for the opium trade. In fact, this area has been home to some of the fiercest fighting the British have seen since WWII. This southern narcotic crossroads is a safe-haven for the Taliban. At least it was, until NATO showed up and put the kibosh on their drug superhighway—much to the dismay of not just the Taliban, but the hundreds of Afghanis who make their living off the trade. Though progress is being made and improvements to a major transportation route have brought alternative opportunities, the killing continues on an industrial scale. Due to the size and mixed terrain, as well as the densely populated Sangin city center, this area has become a kill-box for friendly forces. Besides the 100 British lives lost, U.S. Marines, who stepped up after the hasty British withdrawal, have now lost more than two dozen men here, many from IEDs.
Tangi Valley, Maidan Wardak Province
Two words: inaccessible and infamous. This valley, a mere 80 clicks away from the bustling city of Kabul, might as well be ten thousand miles from anywhere. Surrounded by jagged, saw-toothed mountains with a lush valley at the base of the bowl, insurgents control the high ground with ample space to hide among the rocky outcroppings, wreaking havoc on friendly forces. Long a Taliban stronghold and favored by some lesser known networks tied to Al Qaeda, this dot on the map made headlines recently as the most famous terrorist seemingly reached out from the grave for his revenge with the loss of 30 Americans, the worst single loss of the entire war. Though many have said it was a lucky shot, those troops who make their living in this shithole knew it was a matter of time, as transport choppers are enormous, slow-moving targets. It’s also a popular place for night raids, proving to shift the civilians’ loyalty over to the Taliban and their network of goons, which doesn’t bode well for our boys tasked with security and control. Though Afghan commandos ride shotgun during these intense, surprise visits on the locals, it remains a bone of contention with the populace. So, round and round they go; when it stops, who the hell knows. One thing is certain, though, and that is the blood of men continues to fill this valley of death.
FOB Sharana, Paktika Province
Situated among the Hindu-Kush mountains, the beauty of this area cannot be understated, and neither can the violence and danger. It’s picture perfect, like a postcard come to life, except death lies in wait for the unsuspecting visitor. Nestled near the border of Pakistan where the infamous Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) lies and where many of the insurgents go for some R&R, this outpost is charged with maintaining roads and clearing the roadside bombs or IEDs. Located in one of the most deadly provinces in Afghanistan, this is not where you want to find yourself without a company of soldiers or Marines or perhaps Optimus Prime. Daily rocket attacks keep things hopping and the RCP (route clearance patrols) are kept busy clearing the roads of hazardous IEDs, which often blast the patrol before the RCP can find them as the 30 purple-heart recipients can attest to. A staging area for the Taliban, new fighters pour in from the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan, eager to prove themselves against the infidel foreigners. Progress with the locals has calmed some of the violence in recent months, though death still remains close, just a trigger squeeze away.
To see more images of the beauty and hell that is this land of the Afghans, visit