Cody Smith will tell you he and his fellow soldiers took pride in doing their jobs well as they fought in the hostile mountains of Afghanistan.

Cody Smith will tell you he and his fellow soldiers took pride in doing their jobs well as they fought in the hostile mountains of Afghanistan.

But when asked about troop morale, he bites his lip and shakes his head before responding.

"A lot of people find different ways to get through it," he says. "But when this happened, my buddies told me, 'You got hurt. Pilgeram got killed. For what, dude?' "

Eight members of his 101st Airborne unit were killed during firefights deep in the high mountain valleys of the Kunar Province, he says.

"That's eight families that just got crushed right there," he says. "One of my friends who got killed, he had a wife who was pregnant back in North Carolina.

"He was 19 years old. Why? Yeah, he died for his country and yadda, yadda, yadda. For what?"

Although Smith professes not to be a reader of history books, he was quick to lay out Afghanistan wars over the past century.

"We've been there for 10 years now," he says. "Before that, there were the Russians. And before them, the British. It has been forever."

"Unless you are going to fight every Middle Eastern country over there, every single one, then why be there at all?" he asks. "There are people from Chechnya, Pakistan — anybody and everybody who wants to kill Americans come to Afghanistan in this free-for-all."

To win the war, American soldiers would need to be deployed to every "friggin 'stan" country, he says.

Then there are rules of engagement, which he believes leave American forces fighting with a collective hand tied behind their backs.

"There would be times when I saw hundreds of enemy and we never killed a single one," he says. "We'd see dudes walking with pack animals way out in the mountains. They were all military-age males."

Since no one lives high in the mountains where they were spotted, it was highly likely they were enemy fighters with weapons, he says.

However, because the American soldiers could not see weapons, they could not engage them, he says.

"That happened all the time, all the time," he says.

American forces often go into a rugged area, wrest it from enemy control, only to pull back from the area, he says.

"We went back to our bases and what happens? They (insurgents) just flood right back up there. We killed hundreds of them, hundreds. And they come right back.

"But that's what we do," he says. "We go way out in these valleys. We kick ass and take names, then we pull out. And a couple of months later we redo it. For what?"

He also took exception to the fact his remote base was in a valley surrounded by mountains.

"Since the time of Christ, people have known you don't fight (when you're) downhill," he says. "They just sit in the mountains and shoot at us."

But he isn't faulting military leaders for the overall situation. Rather, he faults politicians.

"In my opinion, politicians get more people killed than the Taliban," he says. "When it comes to high-up politicians, why don't they have sons over there getting killed? That would change policy."

He also wonders whether taxpayers know how much the war is costing them.

"It would blow people's minds if they had any idea how much money we've spent over there," he says. "We gave these farmers seed so they could grow corn (instead of opium poppies). We paid them every couple of months, gave them $200 for every terrace they have."

There were countless farmed terraces in just the Kunar Province alone, he says.

"They probably give that $200 we give them to the Taliban or to their sons who are out fighting us," he says. "Two hundred dollars buys quite a bit of ammo over there."

He recalls American aircraft blew up an enemy ammunition cache, resulting in a halt in the near daily attacks.

"Then we gave them all this money for this corn to try to win them over," he says. "And the next day we started getting shot at again pretty intensely."

Then he asks once again, "When my friend Pilgeram got killed, what did he get killed for? For what?"

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.