Report: US Commanders ‘Incompetent’ Over Nine Soldiers Killed In Afghan Battle Of Wanat — The Telegraph
An unpublished report into one of the US Army’s darkest days, when nine soldiers were killed by the Taliban at a remote Afghan outpost, has branded their commanders incompetent.
The official report into the battle of Wanat, on July 13 last year, describes the bravery of soldiers who kept fighting even after they were hit. One mortally wounded soldier continued to pass ammunition as he lay dying, and his comrades’ bravery and professionalism ensured that the outpost was never overrun.
But cocksure officers conducted themselves so poorly before the battle that they angered the local villagers whom they were supposed to win over, the report states.
Its findings highlight serious concerns as the US is throwing an extra 23,000 battle-weary troops into a war that is being increasingly questioned in the United States.
The battle showed the increasing military sophistication of the Taliban, and highlighted the vulnerability of combat forces which are now fanning out across Afghanistan in small units with orders to engage with villagers.
After an initial Army investigation which was dismissed by critics in the military hierarchy as whitewash, Douglas Cubbison, a military historian was commissioned to produce a more honest assessment.
His report is directed squarely at US commanders in the field. It suggests that if they do not apply the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine and protect local populations, they could meet the same fate as their fallen comrades at Wanat.
Named after a remote wooded valley near the Pakistan border north east of Kabul, the battle began just before dawn when a force of guerrillas estimated at between 50 and 200 in number, threw themselves at the remote US outpost.
Volleys of rocket-propelled grenades rained down as the Taliban swarmed across the steep valley.
They quickly knocked out the American heavy weapons – a 120 millimeter mortar, a TOW missile system, and a .50 calibre machine gun. The 45 soldiers and three Marines at the base along with a small Afghan National Army contingent were soon in a fight for their lives.
It felt like “about a thousand Rocket Propelled Grenades at once,” Army Specialist Tyler Hanson later told an Army investigator. The Taliban moved in to within feet of the Americans, making it impossible to call in airstrikes.
They threw rocks into the Americans’ foxholes, hoping the soldiers would mistake them for grenades and jump out. “The whole time we were thinking we were going to die,” said Specialist Chris McKaig.
When the fighting ended, an hour later, nine US soldiers were dead and 27 were wounded, a 75 per cent casualty rate, which has not been suffered since the Vietnam War.
Details of the draft army report were first revealed by Thomas Ricks on his Foreign Policy blog. Mr Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer on military affairs, said it was significant that the report emerged from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas – the last command of General David Petraeus before he took over as commander for Afghanistan and Iraq.
Gen. Petraeus wrote the Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine which instructs US officers to work with and protect local populations, a marked change of strategy for an army which has always valued firepower and aggression above all else.
“This unit gave lip service to he policy of working with locals,” Mr Ricks said, “and this report is a way for people like Petraeus to say, ‘you think you’re doing counterinsurgency, but your not. And you’re getting our soldiers killed.” The battalion commander in Wanat claimed after the battle that he has been conducting a classic counterinsurgency campaign while ‘living with the population’.
This, the report concluded, was not an accurate account.
“This was not the case in the Waigal Valley, where the paratroopers occupied only two combat outposts, and had almost no interaction with the population,” the report stated.
A statement from one machine gunner in the unit summed up the general attitude to locals: “We didn’t interact with them…they didn’t come near us and we didn’t go near them,” Another soldier added: “These people, they disgust me…everything about those people up there is disgusting. They’re worthless.”
The brigade commander, Col. Charles Preysler, and the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ostlund, come in for lacerating criticism. Neither responded to queries. Col. Preysler, has previously stated that the Wanat outpost was never intended to be a “full-up combat outpost,” or COP. “That is absolutely false and not true,” he said after the battle.
“So, from the get-go, that is just [expletive] and it’s not right.”
However the report found this misleading, because there were extensive plans for construction of a “permanent outpost,” with walls, housing and sewage control.
The report criticised the commanders for their “highly kinetic approach”, using the military jargon for aggressive military action. The report found that they shot first and asked questions later, which “inevitably degraded the relationships between the US Army and the population.” In addition a US helicopter attack before the battle on some trucks passing through the valley killed doctors and other health care workers, angering villagers.