Forward Operating Base Salerno
|Forward Operating Base Salerno|
|Khost (Matun) District, Khost Province, Afghanistan|
FOB Salerno (2008)
|Type||Forward Operating Base|
|Condition||Transferred to Afghan Armed Forces|
|Built by||3rd BN, 505th PIR, 82nd ABN DIV|
|Battles/wars||Operation Enduring Freedom|
Forward Operating Base Salerno is a former forward operating base used by the U.S. military from 2002–2013 during Operation Enduring Freedom. Located in the southeastern province of Khost, Afghanistan, near the city of Khost, FOB Salerno was nicknamed "Rocket City" for the numerous rocket and mortar indirect fire attacks targeting the base over the ten years that US forces occupied to post. On November 1, 2013, U.S. forces withdrew from FOB Salerno and transferred control of the installation to the Afghan National Army.
The facility was built by TF Panther in 2002, centered around the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. It was named for the beachhead in Salerno, Italy that the 505th PIR parachuted onto on 14 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche). Over the years, the base eventually grew to house a population of nearly 5,000 servicemen, servicewomen, civilians, and contractors. Salerno grew to the size of a small city and included features such as a combat support hospital, large gymnasium, post exchange, chapel, large chow hall, aviation hangars, maintenance facilities, billets, 5,000 ft dirt and gravel runway, forward refueling and arming point, and sub-camps for U.S. Special Operations Command units.
In November 2009, a portion of FOB Salerno, where US Special Forces worked and lived with an Afghan Commando unit, was renamed as Camp Pucino after this US Special Forces soldier's death in November 2009. SSG Matthew Pucino was a member of ODA 2223.
Soldiers with 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th BCT, 101st Airborne Division, popularly known as Fox Company, were the last U.S. Army Soldiers to occupy FOB Salerno, exiting on 31 October 2013 after transferring FOB Salerno to the Afghan National Security Forces. Salerno is geographically isolated from the rest of Afghanistan being connected to the rest of the country though the Khost-Gardez Pass, this pass serves as a natural choke point to the region and the pass has been the scene of many battles throughout the US war in Afghanistan as well as the Soviet war in Afghanistan. During its operations two Sapper platoons specializing in route clearance operations were stationed at Salerno. Most of the route clearance units were drawn from the National Guard of the United States serving on active duty. They were responsible for neutralizing IED threats as well as escorting convoys through the heavily mined area. The route clearance units at FOB Salerno were also responsible for routinely clearing the Khost-Gardez Pass. Route clearance is a slow operation as units make slow progress to neutralize mines along the route, since the K-G Pass is relatively long and susceptible to attack the mission routinely took several days to complete. The base is in a hostile location and is only 30 miles south of Tora Bora, it is also only 25 miles north of the location of the friendly fire incident that killed Pat Tillman.
- Task Force Geronimo – 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1–501st PIR (October 2003 – August 2004)
- Task Force Devil – 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division (January 2003 – July 2003)
- Task Force Devil – 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division (March 2005 – March 2006)
- Task Force Spartan – 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (March 2006 – March 2007)
- Task Force Fury – 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division (2007– March 2008)
- Task Force Currahee – 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (March 2008 – March 2009)
- Task Force Yukon – 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division (March 2009 – March 2010)
- Task Force Rakkasans – 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (March 2010– January 2011)
- Task Force Duke – 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division (January 2011 – January 2012)
- Task Force Spartan – 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division
- Task Force Currahee - 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (April 2013 - November 2013)
19 August 2008 attack
On 19 August 2008 insurgents attempted to assault FOB Salerno with a double car bomb. The bombs detonated close to the base perimeter and killed 15 Afghans. Around midnight the next day the base came under mortar fire and was attacked by about 30 Taliban insurgents. The attackers attempted to breach the base near the airfield, where there is no HESCO bastion. The attackers were also accompanied by suicide bombers, three of which detonated their vest early as they came under machine gun fire from the base. Afghan commandos are credited with surrounding the other suicide bombers before they had a chance to attack. Another group of Taliban was observed preparing for an attack 1000 meters from the base before coalition forces opened up small arms fire. Helicopter gunships later pounded the Taliban staging area, resulting in 3 deaths. After the attack the insurgents were found in possession of anti-personnel Type 69 RPG's. As anti-personnel RPG's are rare in Afghanistan it is unclear how the weapons were obtained.
2009 Regional Volatility
FOB Salerno continued to receive a large amount or mortar and rocket fire through the summer of 2009. During one attack, a rocket detonated over the Base Defense Operations Center and a number of personnel was struck by shrapnel, but there were no significant injuries. On 30 December 2009 FOB Chapman, another nearby installation was attacked by a suicide bomber. The attacker managed to sneak by security as he was allowed into the base and detonated himself. Seven CIA operatives were killed, making this attack the deadliest for the agency since the 1983 United States embassy bombing.
August 2010 Attack
FOB Salerno was once again attacked by a group of Taliban on 28 August 2010. The attack started around 0400 with small arms and mortar fire. In addition, suicide bombers participated in the attack. As the attack commenced, some of the insurgents were able to penetrate inside the base and attempted to detonate themselves, but were stopped by coalition forces. Afghan forces also detained five insurgents and destroyed a recoil-less rifle at the scene. After the failed assault, NATO forces conducted an airstrike on a car occupied by 4 Haqqani Network fighters in the area.
June 2012 Attack
There was a complex attack against the FOB in early June 2012. Insurgents utilized a local truck packed with 1,500–2,000 pounds of explosives; a suicide bomber detonated his truck bomb on the southern edge of the base, breaching the perimeter and causing significant damage to the base's buildings. The dining hall annex was leveled and the main DFAC (Dining Facility) sustained severe roof damage in the blast. Moments later, ten insurgents entered the breach armed with rifles, machine guns, grenades, and rockets; each bomber wore ACU digital military camouflage uniforms while one wore an ANA military uniform and most wore explosive suicide vests. The attackers were first engaged by two Navy SEALs driving by the DFAC in a Toyota truck, and then by a five-man team consisting of three helicopter mechanics and two vehicle mechanics; who blocked the attackers advance from two directions. After a 7-minute firefight, US service members repelled the attack, killing all ten insurgents. With the last insurgent dressed in an ANA uniform being killed in a ditch. The first insurgent to fire shot a RPG rocket into the front of a Toyota truck hitting the front right bumper but did not explode. Then a Navy SEAL riding in the truck rolled down his window and shot the insurgent. Next two insurgents came around the second wall and were shot by two helicopter mechanics. Two base contractors were killed in the attack when the DFAC annex collapsed, and a US Soldier died of a fragmentation wound to his face from a hand grenade a few days later. Although initially downplayed in the media, in July 2012 both Long War Journal and al Jazeera published an unedited attack video released by the Taliban. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed that an airplane on an airstrip at the base was destroyed and that 'tens' of foreign forces were killed and wounded in the attack. The Taliban later released the video of the attack, showing the attackers practicing in Southeast Afghanistan, taking their photos, the group leader showing his shooting skills by shooting 2 machine guns and the suicide bomber in the truck.
Troop Draw Down
FOB Salerno was located approximately 25 km from the Pakistan border and the most viable path connecting it to Afghanistan was the Khost-Gardez Pass, which is highly vulnerable to attack and often lead to supply shortages at the base. In fact this path was the scene of Operation Magistral, the last large scale Soviet operation in Afghanistan. During the operation the Battle for Hill 3234 took place in which the 9th Company of the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment was almost wiped out but managed to hold back the mujaheddin attack. During this battle the 39 soldiers of the 9th company held back 200–500 fighters, after the battle only 5 active soldiers remained as all others were either wounded or KIA. FOB Chapman was built around the original Soviet airfield servicing Khost while FOB Salerno was built slightly north of this facility, together these two bases were the vanguards of the city of Khost since they were only several miles from the city, often sending forces to respond to attacks in the provincial capital. The Battle of Tora Bora took place approximately 30 miles north of Khost. Because of this geographic isolation FOB Salerno, being isolated from the rest of Afghanistan on one side and having the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan on the other, the area remained vulnerable to insurgent attacks, supplies often had to be airlifted into the base when the path to Gardez was impassible adding to shortage and cost issues. The base remained a blackout FOB for its existence due to constant mortar and rocket fire, however losses were usually minimal as the indirect fire rarely hit the base. Insurgent activity remained a constant threat as the close proximity to Pakistan provided for easy mobility of the hostiles. Due to its rural location the base was selected for closure in 2013 as ISAF forces prepare to draw down their presence in the country. On November 1, 2013 the Afghan Government fully took control of the base while before they operated in their own separate section as the last remaining US forces withdrew from FOB Salerno led by Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. Constructed in 2002 the base hosted US and ISAF troops for over a decade. During the closure the Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction noted that the inadequate planning of the command staff on the base resulted in $5 million being spent on an incinerator. The incinerator was to replace the open burn pit on base which was thought to cause potential health problems, however once built it was never used and allowed to rust away. The base command continued open burn pit operations while being aware of the health hazard of an open burn pit, even though an incinerator was built and ready to use.
- Wissing, Douglas. "Delays, Closings and Severe Weather – View All Alerts and Updates Cultivating Afghanistan: A Day on FOB Salerno". Indiana Public Media. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
- Powell, Brent (26 Sep 2010). "News: Base operations section keeps Camp Salerno functional". Department of Defense News Release. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- Moeller, Justin (6 Nov 2013). "Currahees transfer FOB Salerno to ANA". Department of Defense News Release. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- Dettmer, Travis (25 Dec 2011). "On their way out the door, TF Duke still finds time to celebrate Christmas in Afghanistan". Department of Defense News Release. Defense Video & Imagery Distribution Service. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
- Matt Dupee (18 Aug 2008). "FOB Salerno withstands 2 day Taliban onslaught". The Long War Journal.
- "Taliban suicide attack kills CIA agents at US outpost in Afghanistan". The Guardian.
- Fanelli, James (28 August 2010). "Taliban sneak attack thwarted, Americans kill 24 Afghan insurgents trying to infiltrate U.S. bases". New York Daily News.
- "New details emerge about complex attack on FOB Salerno". The Long War Journal.
- "Fort Salerno bombing: Taliban video shows blast that killed John Kirkland and Vincent Ellis". Mail Online. 23 July 2012.
- "Operation Magistral-The last Soviet Offensive of the War".
Media related to Forward Operating Base Salerno at Wikimedia Commons
- "Camp Salerno/Forward Operating Base Salerno". globalsecurity.org. Retrieved 21 March 2007.