“It was one of the most intense battles in Afghanistan.”
—President Barack Obama, Feb. 11, 2013, of the Battle of Kamdesh
In 2006, the remote and isolated Nuristan Province in northeast Afghanistan along the Pakistan border had become the focus of a counter-insurgency campaign. But despite some success in finding and killing insurgents, within two years, the combined military operations and infrastructure-building effort had failed to achieve its goals. Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, named after 1st Lt. Benjamin Keating, was one of several outposts established in Nuristan as part of that campaign. Remote even by Afghan standards, poorly situated at the bottom of a valley and surrounded by steep mountains, undermanned and difficult to supply, in December 2008 it was slated for closing. Assorted delays kept pushing that date back. Finally, in late September 2009 the troops at COP Keating were told it would be shut down on October 10. But security regarding this news was so poor that insurgents in Nuristan were aware of that decision within hours of it being made. Hundreds of Taliban living in the mountains surrounding the village of Urmul, where COP Keating was located, watched and waited for their leader, Abdul Rahman, to give them the word. They soon received their orders. The attack on COP Keating would begin just before dawn on Saturday, Oct. 3.
At 5:58 a.m., the Taliban opened fire with heavy machine guns, B10 recoilless rifles, RPGs, mortars, and AK-47s. Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha was in the 1st Platoon barracks, located roughly in the middle of the compound. He immediately took Spc. Josh Dannelley and Pvt. Chris Jones with him to the Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance vehicle battle position 1 (LRAS 1) on the north side of the compound, where Spc. Zachary Koppes was on duty. There he made sure they were well positioned to return suppressive fire with their small arms and Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher.
Romesha returned to the barracks and then, with Cpl. Justin Gregory and carrying an Mk 48 light machine gun and extra ammunition, headed west to LRAS 2 to provide cover fire for the soldiers trapped there.
Romesha and Gregory took up position near a generator on the southern side of the compound where they had a clear field of fire to the south and west. Romesha began returning fire with the Mk 48, quickly running through a two hundred round belt. He had just started with his second belt when an RPG round struck the generator, spraying him with shrapnel.
Unable to deliver sufficient cover fire to allow the soldiers at LRAS 2 to withdraw, after handing the Mk 48 to Gregory, Romesha, ignoring his wounds and the intense enemy fire, returned to the barracks to get reinforcements. There he ordered two men to head to the generator and support Gregory.
After being treated for his wounds, Romesha grabbed an Afghan National Army Dragunov sniper rifle, the only available precision fire weapon, and returned to LRAS 1. There he neutralized a number of enemy positions, including an enemy machine gun nest and a sniper position.
Less than an hour into the battle, the outer western perimeter was breached. Romesha managed to kill three Taliban inside the compound. After giving Lt. Andrew L. Bundermann a situation report in the tactical operations center (TOC) just east of the barracks, Romesha decided to lead a team of five men to the ammunition supply point located on the other side of the barracks, as ammunition was running low for everyone. Despite intense enemy fire and little cover to protect them, everyone reached the ammunition supply point unharmed. There they secured the site and began returning fire with grenades, small arms, and M240 machine gun fire.
Romesha then led a small team forward to retake the shura (meeting) building and entry control point on the northwest side of the compound. Upon reaching it, they came under intense fire from a large group of Taliban in the village of Urmul and the Afghan National Police checkpoint directly opposite their position. By this time friendly helicopters and fixed winged aircraft had arrived and were attacking enemy positions. Romesha was able to call in 120 mm mortar fire and air support munitions on the Taliban in the village and the checkpoint, neutralizing that threat.
Romesha then turned his attention to the western side of the compound and LRAS 2. He directed covering fire heavy enough to enable three soldiers, one seriously wounded, to withdraw. When those men were clear, and again ignoring enemy fire, Romesha led a team to recover the bodies of three soldiers who had fallen in that sector.
The battle had lasted all day. Ultimately eight American soldiers were killed and 22 wounded. The Taliban suffered 150 killed and an unknown number of wounded.
On Feb. 11, 2013, in a ceremony at the White House, retired Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha received the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama for his actions “above and beyond the call of duty” in the Battle of Kamdesh.