COP Keating: Politics and Warfighting

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 8 months ago

Spencer Ackerman is conflicted over leaving COP Keating open.  Jim Hanson agrees with the commenter that has Spencer thinking – and supports the notion that a commander should be allowed to amend, caveat and stipulate in order to manage the campaign.  Starting this kerfuffle, Spencer’s commenter says:

McChrystal is well within his rights to make individual exceptions to his overarching ruling of giving up the countryside to protect the population centers — and it seems pretty dumb to give up a known avenue of approach like this rat line, especially when the governor is requesting protection.

Well, maybe.  But there is more to this than meets the eye.  I had known for some time that COP Keating had been left open for political reasons at the request of the Provincial officials.  In fact, the politics gets rather ugly.  Richard Engel tells us:

Around 25,000 votes were cast in Barge Matal, approximately ten for every person in the village.  A cynic might say U.S. forces were called in so Barge Matal would be secure enough for local officials to rig the vote.  I have spoken to cynics within the U.S. military leadership in eastern Afghanistan. They go further than that.  They believe the Afghan government used the military (which brought in the ballots by helicopter) to provide cover for vote rigging and that the Afghan request to secure Barge Matal had deadly consequences for U.S. troops.

But it gets even worse.   Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy reporter who was with the three Marines and Corpsman who perished in the Kunar Province when they were denied artillery support after being ambushed by Taliban) digs deeper.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, kept a remote U.S. base in the country manned last year at the local governor’s request despite warnings from his field commanders that it should be closed because it was vulnerable and had no tactical or strategic value.

McChrystal’s decision to maintain the outpost at Barg-e Matal prompted the top American commanders in eastern Afghanistan to delay plans to close a second remote U.S. outpost, Combat Outpost Keating, where insurgents killed eight U.S. troops in an assault Oct. 3, a McClatchy investigation has found.

Keeping Barg-e-Matal open also deprived a third isolated base of the officer who would have been its acting commander and left its command to lower-ranking officers whose “ineffective actions” led “directly” to the deaths of five American and eight Afghan soldiers in an ambush Sept. 8, according to a high-level military investigation.

In addition, an unidentified witness told the military investigators that the operations center that failed to provide effective artillery and air cover to the U.S. and Afghan force that was ambushed in the Ganjgal Valley was focused instead on Barg-e Matal.

However, the ambush inquiry and a similar high-level Army probe into the Oct. 3 deaths at COP Keating, the worst single American combat loss in 2009, don’t mention that McChrystal’s decision to keep Barg-e Matal open made the combat outpost and the Ganjgal operation more vulnerable.

Instead, the inquiries hit lower-ranking officers — including two field commanders who’d urged McChrystal for months to close Keating and Barg-e Matal — with administrative penalties.

The two officers, Col. Randy George and Lt. Col. Robert B. Brown, and other U.S. officials had warned repeatedly that the two outposts were worthless and too costly to defend, two American defense officials and a former NATO official told McClatchy.

So via the AR 15-6 process, we are on another head hunt in order to exonerate decisions made at the very top.  Listen carefully to me.  I have previously said that COP Keating did indeed serve a purpose, i.e., to interdict fighters flowing from Pakistan into Afghanistan along this route.  That is what makes this so ugly.

McChrystal has a right to decide, stipulate, caveat, circle back around, and whatever else he wants to do.  His giving up the countryside in favor of population centers is wrongheaded, and I do not now and have never concurred with the idea of population-centric counterinsurgency when applied as an exclusive use doctrine.  Nor do I believe in holding terrain.

But again, listen carefully to me.  What neither McChrystal nor any of his reports has a right to do is leave U.S. warriors in poor terrain, with lack of adequate force protection, in inadequately garrisoned outposts, with poor logistics and little outside assistance.  McChrystal DOES have a right to issue deployment / garrisoning orders.  He DOESN’T have a right to forget or ignore basic military doctrine like force protection – not for interdiction, not for politics, not for any reason, ever.

Prior: Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

  • wayne rankin

    Help me understand why you would make and then try to defend a decision to defend a death pit = Keating. Ist rule take and make damn sure that you control the high ground. If you want to control the route the enemy is using set up sensors – detect their movements — then shoot down on them. Everyone screwed up from the start and then continued to duck an weave to cover the first obvious mistake.

  • Jim Harris

    Add to that mines, booby traps, and barriers. You don’t have to physically occupy ground to control or deny access.


You are currently reading "COP Keating: Politics and Warfighting", entry #4597 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,COP Keating,General McChrystal,Kamdesh and was published February 23rd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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