Drone Front and Other Recommended Reading

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 7 months ago

Loyal reader and blogger Rick Keyes has made a contribution for our education this weekend.  Rick has cataloged and analyzed the recent drone strikes in the tribal region of Pakistan.  Make sure to study his report Drone_Front.

Next, the Army has finally published an official historical analysis of the engagement at Wanat.  The study is from The Staff of the U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  It is entitled Wanat: Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008.

On page 255 three of my articles are listed.  I am proud to have contributed in some small degree to this important work.  I had wanted for a long time to publish Douglas Cubbison’s preliminary work in full, but it was forwarded to me in confidence and I have held that confidence until today.  Now the study is complete, although not exactly in its original form or with all of its original content.

  • Brian

    Do you feel that this original content you reference changes or alters the findings in the CSI document? The document itself seems to show a clear sequence of events leading to the battle of Wanat, with zero negiligence on the part of the chain of command. Do you still believe that the chain of command failed these Soldiers?

  • jj

    I believe so.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Thanks for the question Brian. If you will recall from my earlier coverage of Wanat (see category), I didn’t agree with everything Cubbison wrote anyway (not that you had access to the draft report, but I rehearse some of the things with which I disagreed).

    I haven’t had the time to compare and contrast everything in this report with the original report, and probably will never have the time to do that. But I don’t see any way that any report could possibly exonerate the decisions made that lead up to this debacle.

    Cubbison, in the draft report, criticized the lack of soft COIN, the lack of jirgas, the lack of community interaction, etc. It’s absurd to think that TF Rock could have done any differently than what they did with the heavy kinetic engagements. They were dropped into a hornet’s nest of insurgent activity. Besides, if you also might recall from my COIN category, I favor phases in COIN, with kinetics being first.

    Among the horrible failures, the following continue to be among the top contenders in my mind:

    1) Under-resourcing the COP (or VPB) in terms of manpower.
    2) Poor planning for logistics.
    3) Inadequate force protection.
    4) Taking one year (11 months) negotiating with local elders concerning the location of VPB Wanat, when it should have gone up overnight with or without local approval, a suggestion, by the way, made by the local elders who couldn’t understand why the Army wanted their approval and delayed the VPB, allowing 400+ enemy fighters to deploy around Wanat.
    5) The far flung nature of OP Top Side and the inability to provide force protection for it, which cost most of the lives that fateful night, and finally,
    6) Poor choice of terrain.



  • phantomdw2

    I think that debacle is fairly strong for the events at Wanat. While I am deeply saddened that Soldiers were killed, I think debacle should be reserved for an event like Ganjgal, where decisions made at a TOC during the battle directly contributed to the deaths of the Marines. I think the report shows a fairly clear sequence of reasonable decisions that a regrettable outcome.

    I disagree that manpower was an issue. I think they were adequately manned for that mission but that the delay of the Afghani construction equipment arriving caused a significant increase in the amount of physical labor required. That led to the shortage of water and a focus of the Soldiers on defensive prep in lieu of active patrolling. (Per the report, the timeline was moved up because the chinooks could not fly at night after the 12th.)

    The unit began discussions with the elders (and the landowner) in April to purchase the land because seizing land in other regions had spoiled relations with the locals right off the bat. The elders response was to tell the Americans to take the land and pay them afterwards so the elders would be able to defend themselves to the Taliban and avoid any reprisal.

    I definitely disagree with the idea of OP Topside as far-flung. It was only located 60 yards from the edge of VPB Kahler. In fact, the Company Commander was not pleased with the placement of OP Topside, but the LT believed placing the OP among the bounders in proximity to Kahler would make it easier to reinforce if a big attack did come. This in fact, proved to be the case as Topside was reinforced multiple times and proved the key to defeating the enemy attack at Wanat.

    The terrain was certainly not ideal, but the plan was (like with COP Keating) to colocate with organizations of the Afghan government to reinforce their power and reach in the region. That battalion had had success with that strategy before.

    I think, on the whole, I disagree with the belief that there was poor decision making in the chain of command that directly led to the deaths at Wanat.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    Well, you have a right to your own views, but with all due respect, I don’t think that there is anything in your own analysis / opinion that makes it more compelling than my own.

    It seems to me to be self-evident that if they had had more troops they would have fared better in the final fight, as well as been better off during the patrols and other engagements that lead up to the final engagement. Force projection would have been present, and as it was, they had to focus more on force protection (by the necessary nature of being under-resourced).

    I know exactly why they focused on talks with the elders. I have known this from the beginning. And even after the elders told them to go ahead with construction of the VPB, they still engaged in talks, allowing insurgents to mobilize in the vicinity of the VPB. All you have done is repeat the initial reason – you haven’t added to the knowledge base.

    Most of the men who died that fateful night did so at or attempting to relieve OP Top Side. Case closed. Something was wrong with how this COP was set up.

    Finally, the terrain was awful. It’s not just that it could have been better. It was awful.

    I continue to believe everything I have written about Wanat, and you can hold your own views.

  • Pingback: The Captain's Journal » Assigning Blame in the Battle of Wanat()

You are currently reading "Drone Front and Other Recommended Reading", entry #5823 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Battle of Wanat,Drone Campaign,Recommended Reading and was published December 3rd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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