In the months and years that passed, buried human bones were discovered in the Rock as American units rotated in and out of the outpost, and the destruction of Corporal Kelly’s discovery in 2008 morphed into part of its mystique.

An American missile had struck the outpost before the Marines had seized it, the Americans would later say, burying Taliban fighters inside.

But the bones were almost certainly not Taliban: they were decades and, likely in some cases, centuries old.

A local scholar in Garmsir, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, said the hill had originally been a fort, but that hundreds of years ago its use changed. Local people, he said, and eventually ethnic Pashtuns, saw it and the other structures like it in the area as spiritual sites and transformed them into burial sites.

In the years before the 1740s, before Pashtuns had made their way to Garmsir, is when the fort, Observation Post Rock’s foundation, is thought to have been built, according to local officials and residents.

Who built it is unclear, but the Safavid, Mughal and Ghaznavid empires, as well as Alexander the Great, all left their mark on the region. Residents of the area sometimes call these mounds (there are several in the district) a vestige of Maliko Tawafee, an Arabic phrase, also used in Persian, that describes a governing system where each tribe is led by a local king or elder.

The Rock’s last likely use as a graveyard may have been around 1980, at the start of the Soviet-Afghan war, the local scholar said, when fighters, some led by the insurgent commander, Nasim Akhundzada, surrounded and captured roughly 40 Afghan communist police officers near Amir Agha.

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