AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

September 8, 2009, a deadly engagement occurred in the Kunar Province, in which three Marines and one Navy Corpsman perished in a well planned and coordinated ambush.  I had predicted that the field grade officers responsible for the call to withhold artillery and air support had better be about their business finding new employment because their careers in the military were over.  No AR 15-6 investigation would find fault with the tactical directive of a four star general.  I was right.

The absence of experienced senior leaders and inadequate action by officers in a tactical operations center, including a failure to provide effective artillery and air support, contributed to the deaths of five U.S. troops and nine Afghans in a Sept. 8 battle, an official investigation has found.

Three unidentified officers from the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., received official reprimands following the inquiry into the clash, which erupted after Afghan security forces and U.S. Army and Marine trainers were ambushed in the Ganjgal Valley, near the border with Pakistan in northeastern Kunar province …

The names of the colonels and the troops were redacted from the summary, which hasn’t been released publicly.

A McClatchy correspondent was embedded with the U.S. trainers for the operation, which was launched after elders in the village of Ganjgal publicly disavowed the Taliban and agreed to accept the authority of local Afghan officials …

The investigation found that numerous oversights contributed to the deaths of the U.S. and Afghan forces. Most involved 10th Mountain Division officers assigned to Forward Operating Base Joyce, the U.S. outpost that had tactical control of the operation.

The base commander was on leave, his deputy was deployed elsewhere and the response to the ambush by the officers who manned the tactical operations center in their absence was “inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life,” the report said.

Two majors, the senior officers there, “were not continually present” in the operations center. They left a captain who’d been on the overnight shift in charge of the center for more than four hours after the fighting began.

The officers’ names were redacted from the report that McClatchy obtained.

“The absence of senior leaders in the operations center with troops in contact … and their consequent lack of situational awareness and decisive action was a key failure,” it said.

Another major factor, it said, was the operations center officers’ failure to provide “effective” artillery fire on the insurgents, despite repeated requests from the battlefield.

The acting commander and “all commissioned staff officers” failed to “monitor a rapidly degenerating tactical situation,” the report said. That mistake “prevented timely supporting fires in the critical early phases of the operation and ensured that higher headquarters did not grasp the tactical situation.”

Only four artillery salvoes were fired in the first hour of the operation; three were ineffective and no more salvoes were authorized from 6:39 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., the report said.

One of the majors told the investigators that he denied further requests for fire support “for various reasons including: lack of situational awareness of locations of friendly elements; proximity to the village; garbled communications; or inaccurate or incomplete calls for fire.”

The inquiry, however, found that too many calls over a radio network “may account for some confusion in the conduct of fires, but in our judgment is not an adequate explanation for the complete lack of fires from 0639 until 1615.”

The report found that the failure to provide adequate artillery support wasn’t due to a tactical directive issued by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was designed to avert civilian casualties, as officers involved in the battle had believed.

“A second key failure was the lack of timely air support,” the report said.

An unidentified officer denied requests from the battlefield to send a helicopter gunship that was minutes away because the requests weren’t sent through his brigade headquarters and the aircraft was assigned to another operation, the report said.

You can read the redacted executive summary of the AR 15-6 report below. [Editorial comment: I wish Congress would pass a law against the existence of executive summaries in any situation - they tend to make readers dumber rather than smarter, and in this case, the military has learned far too much from corporate America]

Ganjgal Report

It states that “our investigation did not reveal any violations of the ISAF tactical directive.  [redacted] stated that he did not feel constrained by the tactical directive in employing indirect fires.  However, that perception clearly existed in the minds of the ETT leaders during and after the battle.”

So that’s how it ends.  During and after the battle, those under fire might claim that they said certain things over the radio, and they might claim that they heard certain responses back, but if any blame redounds to the tactical directive, we can rest assured that those under fire that day are merely confused because we know better than they do.  We have read the AR 15-6 investigation, and it says that this was all just a perception on their part.

On the other hand, the McClatchy reporter, Jonathan S. Landay, was there as well, and under fire.  He reported that “U.S. commanders, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers dug into the slopes and tree lines — despite being told repeatedly that they weren’t near the village.”  Everything else reported that day Landay, the NCOs and field grade officers present in the fire fight was correct, including no response to requests for air support due to the unavailability of assets.  Artillery was available to fire white phosphorus smoke rounds to cover their retreat.

But when it comes to the issue of refusal of artillery to fire anything but white phosphorus smoke rounds due to the rules of engagement, the Marines were just dead wrong that day.  No one who refused to allow artillery support of the engagement did so as a result of McChrystal’s tactical directive.  The 10th Mountain officers and NCOs “failed to monitor a rapidly degenerating (sic, degrading?) tactical situation,” but apparently had no problem supporting the Marines with white phosphorus smoke rounds that couldn’t possibly cause any collateral damage to noncombatants.

I believe everything I read in AR 15-6 investigations.  And pigs fly.




You are currently reading "AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province", entry #4575 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Kunar Province,Marine Corps,Rules of Engagement and was published February 19th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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