Shkin (Pashto: شکين) is a town in Gomal District, Paktika Province, Afghanistan, located about a kilometer west of the newer town and bazaar of Angur Ada in the Barmal District of Paktika. As with the area immediately to the north, the Barmal Valley, the Gomal region is primarily populated by ethnic Pashtuns who share many of the same characteristics of their neighbors in the South Waziristan Tribal Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
|Elevation||2,197 m (7,208 ft)|
Soil conditions near Shkin are marginal and only allow for limited agricultural seasonal use. Aside from small apple orchards/farms there is only minimal economic activity. The closest competent health care can be found in Wana, Pakistan, and Urgun. Until recently there were no paved roads in this Barmal Valley region. However, with the construction of the nearby firebase, a permanent road from Urgun has made its way all the way to Barmal. The estimated elementary level literacy rate for males in the Barmal Valley is 60% and 10-20% for females in the Bermel Valley. It is an impoverished region even by Afghan standards.
Shkin Firebase was named after this village and was renamed Firebase Lilley to honor Master Sgt. Arthur L. Lilley, a U.S. Special Forces soldier who was killed in a gunfire exchange there in 2007. This heavily fortified military base has housed mostly American special operations forces since 2002 and is located just six kilometers from the Pakistani border and resembles the Alamo. It is considered the most dangerous location in Afghanistan.
The U.S. firebase looks like a Wild West cavalry fort, ringed with coils of razor wire. A U.S. flag ripples above the 3-ft.-thick mud walls, and in the watchtower a guard scans the expanse of forested ridges, rising to 9,000 ft., that mark the border. When there's trouble, it usually comes from that direction.
Americans at Firebase Lilley live at the front of the front line in the War. They are constant targets for al-Qa'ida and Taliban fighters who launch frequent strikes from nearby Pakistan. This border area is an unforgiving landscape, where the enemy can hide at close range while remaining invisible. When the US operators venture out in patrols along dusty tracks they have dubbed Chevy, Pontiac and Camaro, they know how easily a hunter can become prey. As U.S. Army Colonel Rodney Davis puts it, "Shkin is the evilest place in Afghanistan." The fire base has seen a great deal of enemy contact and the units that have served there have taken more casualties from enemy fire than any other location. Given the close proximity to the Pakistani border, it seems to have the most contact with enemy forces and not just in the form of (improvised explosive devices) or rocket attacks – its actual direct fire contact with the enemy. On August 31, 2003, Army SPC Chad C. Fuller, 24, of Potsdam, NY., and Army PFC Adam L. Thomas, 21, of Palos Hills, Illinois were killed in a gun battle with Taliban forces. They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum. On October 25, 2003, paramilitary officers Christopher Mueller and William "Chief" Carlson from the CIA's Special Activities Division were killed while conducting an operation to kill/capture high level al-Qa'ida leaders. On 21 May 2004, these Officers were honored with Stars on the CIA Memorial Wall at their Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. "The bravery of these two men cannot be overstated," Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet told a gathering of several hundred Agency employees and family members of those killed in the line of duty. "Chris and Chief put the lives of others ahead of their own. That is heroism defined." Mueller, a former US Navy SEAL and Carlson, a former Army Special Forces soldier, Delta Force operator, and member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, died while on a covert operation near Shkin, Afghanistan. Both officers saved the lives of others, including Afghan soldiers, during the engagement with al-Qa'ida forces.
As described in Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars, the CIA created Counter-Terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) starting in 2001 which reached 3,000 soldiers by 2010. They are considered the "best Afghan fighting force" and unlike the Afghan National Army, very well motivated. Firebase Lilley serves as a nerve center for the covert war and a hub for these CTPT operations. These units have not only been highly effective in combat operations against the Taliban and al-Qa'ida forces, but have also been used to engage with the tribes in areas with no other official government presence. This covert war also includes a large CIA expansion into the Federally Administered Tribal Area region of Pakistan to target senior al-Qa'ida and Taliban leadership. The CTPT units are key to any exit strategy for the U.S. government to leave Afghanistan, while still being able to deny al-Qa'ida and other transnational extremists groups a safe haven.
- Bloomberg News, September 22, 2010, Presence larger than thought
- Global Security
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- Woodward (2010), p. 367
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