5 years ago
Greg Jaffe at The Washington Post penned an article on the buildup to the disaster at COP Keating that got little attention. The entire history is worth study, but several quotes are lifted out (and certainly out of context) in order to make important observations that aren’t dissimilar to those I have made for four years.
Just before 6 a.m., more than 300 insurgents launched a massive attack on Bundermann’s remote outpost in the Kamdesh district of northeastern Afghanistan. By 6:30 three of Bundermann’s soldiers were dead, and the Apache attack helicopters he desperately wanted weren’t going to arrive for another half hour …
The outpost, surrounded by soaring mountains on all sides, was isolated and hard to defend. “It felt like we were living in the bottom of a Dixie cup,” one of Brown’s soldiers said …
Attacks on U.S. forces had increased every year since Keating was established in 2006, and by summer 2009 Brown concluded that the presence of U.S. troops was feeding the insurgency. His study of the local rebel factions had led him to believe that a U.S. withdrawal from the area would split the insurgency …
Brown also asked for Sadiq’s “wisdom.” “We need assistance from leaders like you that are able to reach out and encourage the people of Kamdesh to cease the violence and oust the Taliban,” he wrote. He offered to meet with Sadiq whenever it was convenient and promised him protection …
The next morning, Afghan villagers approached Keating’s main gate and asked for permission to collect their dead from the base and a nearby village. Brown gave the Afghans some body bags and told them to stay off the high ground where the U.S. forces were still dropping bombs to take out snipers.
The next two days were spent packing up equipment and rigging the outpost’s remaining buildings with explosives. After nightfall on Oct. 6, a half dozen Chinook helicopters flew into Keating and hauled away the troops. Brown climbed on the last bird. As he was leaving, engineers triggered the delayed fuses on the explosives. Forty minutes later Keating was in flames. A B-1 bomber finished the job the next day.
Brown typed up an e-mail cataloguing mistakes he made in failing to build up the outpost’s defenses in the months before the planned withdrawal. He sent it to his boss, his fellow battalion commanders and the two-star general assigned to conduct an investigation of the attack. The letter of reprimand the general wrote to Brown closely tracked the e-mail.
Alone in his office a few weeks after the attack Brown re-read the letter he had sent to Sadiq in September. It made him cringe.
“I was playing to his ego. But reading it over, it sounds like I was kissing his ass from a position of weakness,” Brown said months later. He paused and exhaled. “We certainly weren’t operating from a position of strength.”
The importance of terrain has been an ongoing theme in our coverage of Kamdesh and Wanat, but in spite of the experiences at VPB Kahler at Wanat, the COP Keating Soldiers were left to tough it out in terrain that almost ensured their demise. We are not a learning organization. Moreover, the first close air support was at least one hour from the battle, and there was no artillery. This shows once again that the campaign is underresourced.
The notion that coalition presence was feeding the insurgency was the horrible and cowardly excuse proffered by the British commanders when they left Basra (the follow-on activity as you will recall was of the U.S. and ISF engaging in heavy battle to defeat the Shi’a militias while the British watched from their bases). If Col. Brown had studied the history of Iraq as he had claimed, he would have more quickly dismissed the notion of the counterinsurgents being the fuel for the insurgency as mere fodder for withdrawal and defeat.
Finally, “ass kissing” is the about the best explanation possible for this pusillanimous letter to a loser like Sadiq. The lesson of the Anbar Province is one winning from the position of strength (see also Col. MacFarland’s comments on Ramadi). Force Projection, the importance of terrain, the importance of close air support and artillery, and the importance of the position of strength in counterinsurgency – these things are not only common themes here at The Captain’s Journal, they are the foundations of success.