Archive for the 'Battle of Wanat' Category



The Battle of Wanat, Massing of Troops and Attacks in Nuristan

BY Herschel Smith
5 years ago

After the Army’s AR 15-6 investigation, General Petraeus has ordered a new investigation of the Battle of Wanat, in what may be deemed a victory for the fathers of both 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom and Private Gunnar Zwilling who had requested such an investigation.

The increased attention brought to bear on the Battle of Wanat comes partially as a result of an unpublished study by an Army Historian at the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth named Douglas R. Cubbison which I have reviewed as I stated two months ago.

I found that Mr. Cubbison did a remarkably able job of laying out the framework, historical and military, for the engagement, and made careful use of the facts to weave a narrative together of the event and things that lead to it.  Where I found Mr. Cubbison’s study lacking was his focus on heavy kinetics and the lack of meetings with elders.  In other words, the failure at Wanat had to do with the failure to implement proper counterinsurgency, i.e., winning hearts and minds, or so much of his study concluded.

To be sure, Mr. Cubbison does outline a number of tactical failures, but as I stated two months ago, in my humble opinion Mr. Cubbison’s analysis goes awry when tackling the elements of population-centric counterinsurgency.  Colonel William B. Ostlund documents the kinetic engagements during the deployment in his analysis of lessons learned.

Ultimately, the task force was involved in 1,100 enemy contacts. Those engagements required:
●5,400 fire missions (expending 36,500 rounds).
●3,800 aerial deliveries (bombs and gun runs).
●23 Javelin anti-tank missiles.
●108 TOW missiles.
●Hundreds of grenades thrown.
The enemy routinely engaged at the maximum effective
range, but on at least five occasions were close enough to touch Americans. Twenty-six members of Task Force Rock gave their lives in Kunar Province. Other noteworthy Soldier statistics include:
●143 wounded.
●Three nominated for the Medal of Honor.
●Two nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross (one awarded by the time of this publication).
●25 Silver Stars awarded.
●90 Bronze Star Medals with Valor awarded.
●Over 300 Army Commendation Medals with Valor awarded.

Mr. Cubbison reviews this data and remarks that:

“TF Rock was unable to provide commensurate statistics for Shuras conducted, VETCAPS and MEDCAPS performed, quantities of Humanitarian Supplies distributed, economic development projects initiated, schools constructed, or similar economic, political and diplomatic initiatives.”

Later, he also concludes that population-centric counterinsurgency is not consistent with such heavy kinetics.  I have always attempted to be open, honest and clear with my readers on this issue.  I reject the single center of gravity focus of the Clausewitz school and favor the notion of lines of effort in any counterinsurgency campaign.  There is absolutely no reason to place protecting the population over against killing the enemy.  Moreover, many COIN campaigns can be more neatly placed into phases, with heavier kinetics dominating the initial stages and more population-centric tactics dominating the subsequent stages.

The Washington Post has a recent article that, while initially pointing to under-resourcing of the efforts in the smaller, less population-heavy provinces, nonetheless steps on the same terrain as the Cubbison study.

Before Brostrom moved to Wanat, he went home on leave to see his parents in Hawaii, where they had settled after his father retired from the Army. One evening, he showed his father videos from Afghanistan. Most of the clips were of Brostrom and his troops under fire at the Bella outpost.

In one video, Brostrom’s battalion fired artillery and white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon, at a distant campfire in the mountains where it had killed insurgents earlier that day. Someone had come to collect the bodies. The soldiers were determined to kill them.

“Here comes a mighty big explosion on this little candlelight ceremony that the Taliban is having for their buddies that died there earlier,” one of the soldiers says on the video. “This is going to be glorious. It is going to be a bloodbath.”

A few seconds later, the mountainside exploded with fire, and the soldiers let up a raucous cheer.

Human rights groups have criticized the United States for employing white phosphorus to kill enemy fighters, but this type of use is permitted under military rules. The elder Brostrom weighed his words carefully before he spoke. “How do you know those people dragging the bodies away weren’t villagers coming to get their relatives?” he asked.

“They are all [expletive] Taliban up there,” the son replied.

The father continued to press his doubts. The son maintained that the hard-nosed approach was the only thing keeping him alive in a hopeless corner of Afghanistan. Finally, the young lieutenant snapped. “You don’t understand,” he said.

“You’re right, son. I don’t,” the father replied. “I don’t understand it. But I am worried. I am really worried.”

[ ... ]

A few days after the platoon arrived, a Wanat village elder gave Brostrom a list of Afghans who had been killed in a helicopter attack the previous week. The dead included insurgents but also several local medical personnel who had worked closely with U.S. soldiers. The incident had infuriated people throughout the valley.

On July 13, their fifth day at the Wanat base, Brostrom and Dzwik ordered all of the soldiers to rise at 3:30 a.m. and man their fighting positions. In Afghanistan, the hours just before dawn are typically the most deadly.

Shortly after 4 a.m., an estimated 200 insurgents let loose a torrent of rocket-propelled-grenade fire, destroying the base’s anti-tank missile system and its mortar tubes. Then they trained their guns on the observation post.

The Washington Post makes it seem as if the ham handedness of the U.S. efforts was at least a contributing cause of the event.  But there are many things that this account doesn’t tell us.  For instance, the town elders had tried to tell the U.S. troops for months that a large scale attack was imminent, and had in fact requested that the Army, which had tried for eleven months to get jirga approval for Vehicle Patrol Base Wanat, simply ignore the highly political inner workings of the jirga and put up the base without approval.

Eleven months delay allowed the Taliban to mass troops, and this plus the horrible terrain of Observation Post Top Side allowed the Taliban to successfully attack with some 300 fighters – near half Battalion size force.  Whether the people of the valley were infuriated or not had nothing to do with the massing of Taliban forces, the fact that the people had no control over the Taliban, or the fact that the elders had already informed the American troops that an attack was coming based on their own observations.

We have previously discussed the Taliban tactic of massing of forces to outnumber U.S. Soldiers or Marines.  The Battle of Wanat occurred in the Nuristan Province.  Not twenty miles from this battle and in the same Province, the Taliban have massed troops once again, killing eight American Soldiers and two Afghan troops.

Eight American soldiers and two Afghan troops have been killed in the deadliest attack on coalition troops for more than a year, officials say.

The battle happened in Nuristan province in the remote east of the country when military outposts were attacked, a Nato statement said.

The Taliban said it carried out the attack. Reports say local officials including a police chief were captured.

Violence has escalated in the east as insurgents relocate from the south.

In a statement, Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said that tribal militia launched attacks on the foreign and Afghan military outposts from a mosque and a nearby village.

The attack is thought to have taken place in the Kamdesh district of Nuristan, and lasted several hours.

About 300 militants attacked one outpost at the foot of a hill, before turning their fire on a US base on higher ground, attacking from two sides, a provincial police chief said.

One Nato spokesman called it a “complex attack in a difficult area”.

Counterinsurgency doctrine says that you must have the support of the population in order to flush out the insurgents.  But what the doctrine doesn’t mention is that force projection is the necessary pre-condition for any of that other doctrine to obtain.  The population will not ally with the weaker side, and not only are heavy kinetics necessary up front in any such campaign, but the troops necessary to pull this off must be in place.

While it might be easy to point the finger at failing to win hearts and minds, it’s much more difficult (and more salient) to ask why any counterinsurgent would be able to win hearts and minds by continually placing platoon-size forces into hostile provinces to be overrun by half-Battalion size enemy forces?

Prior:

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

The Contribution of the Afghan National Army in the Battle of Wanat

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

The Contribution of the Afghan National Army in the Battle of Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

During the Battle of Wanat, nine U.S. Soldiers perished and twenty seven were wounded, while no Afghan National Army troops died and five were wounded.  This metric needs clarification, in that eight of the nine who perished that fateful night did so either defending or attempting to relieve Observation Post Top Side.  But further clarification of this metric shows us that the ANA troops apparently wouldn’t have been assigned to OP Top Side anyway specifically because of qualifications and reliability.  Additionally, the wounded were mainly applicable to COP Kahler, the main base at VPB Wanat.  The ratio of U.S. to ANA wounded is an instructive metric.

All over Afghanistan, First Lieutenants and Captains are assessing the reliability of the ANA troops with whom they patrol and fight.  This is a daily affair, and occurs through anecdotal evidence, via collaboration with fellow officers, and by various other means.  The model of understanding developed by these officers can be amended by other data points, and thus the model is a learning and evolving model as it should be.

The model The Captain’s Journal has developed thus far takes a fairly dim view of the capabilities and reliability of ANA troops thus far.  On the whole they have not performed well.  This doesn’t impugn all of the troops, but of course metrics don’t do that; they are normative and broadly applicable to general  questions.

This model has apparently been fairly consistent with the witness of the officers – both commissioned and NCOs – involved in the battle of Wanat.  First, 1 Lt. Brostrom weighs in on how he saw the ANA, stating that the ANA he was taking with him he considered not to count towards combat power.  Next, the NCOs and enlisted men weigh in (unpublished study).

… the ANA Company remained in their fighting positions, in the middle of the COP, and to the south at the southernmost TCP.  Numerous Chosen Company soldiers complained of their inactivity. One soldier with the 1st Squad TCP claimed that: “The ANA had fled from their position.”   Another Sergeant stated, “I also remember ANA not shooting that much and never leaving their foxholes.”  Sergeant _____ was not professionally impressed with the ANA performance:

They never got out of their holes. They only had four wounded, which tells me that the enemy directed their fire at the Americans, not the Afghans. The Afghans sprayed and prayed. That’s about it. To be honest, though, it was more than I expected. The other numerous occasions I’ve been on with Afghan soldiers as our backup, they ran.

Sergeant _______ summed up what most of the Chosen soldiers felt, “they were still pretty much totally useless.”

The ratio of U.S. to ANA wounded doesn’t prove the point concerning ANA reliability and viability, but it is yet another data point that confirms the suspicions and fails to change or challenge the model of the ANA as highly problematic as an independent fighting force, or even a reliable embedded fighting force.

Prior:

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Battle of Wanat Disputed?


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Investigating the Battle of Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 2 months ago

The Battle of Wanat has been in the news lately.  Tom Ricks has posted an analysis of the battle from his reading of a thus far unreleased document – a study by an Army Historian at the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth named Douglas R. Cubbison.  There is an interesting comment thread at the Small Wars Journal blog on this topic.  Ricks finds that the result of the battle – 36 casualties, 9 dead and 27 wounded – resulted in large degree from a failure to implement the principles of counterinsurgency.

I have also reviewed Mr. Cubbison’s study.  We’ll get to more thoughts on the battle of Wanat and the study in a moment.  Before that, there are rumblings of a Congressional investigation of this event.

Two congressional leaders are urging the Pentagon to launch a new investigation into a deadly attack in Afghanistan last year.

That attack killed nine people, including 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, a graduate of Damien High School and the University of Hawaii.

Jonathan Brostrom

Brostrom was in charge of 45 American soldiers and 20 local troops in a remote Afghanistan outpost. About 200 enemy fighters over ran that outpost last July killing the nine Americans and wounding 27 others.  In an interview with KITV a year ago, Brostrom’s father, David, said he had been concerned about his son’s safety even before the lieutenant died.

“They’re fighting in a situation where they don’t enough troops on the ground and it’s been like this for a long time,” David Brostrom told KITV in July 2008.

Brostrom’s father is a retired Army colonel who spent 30 years flying Army helicopters.  David Brostrom said during a home leave, his son told him he feared for the safety of his men without enough manpower to maintain security.

“That’s when I started to worry about him,” David Brostrom said.

At David Brostrom’s urging, Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Virginia Sen. James Webb have called for an independent investigation by the Department of Defense’s solicitor general.

An earlier Army investigation left commanders blameless.

“We have to see if there are grounds for some disciplinary action,” Abercrombie said.

A later report by the Army Combat Studies Institute was critical of command decisions before the attack, saying the single platoon lacked necessary manpower and equipment even enough water to carry out its mission.”

Col. Brostrom’s point is that a little bit of investigation may save lives and prevent injuries in the future,” Abercrombie said.

Returning to the study from Leavenworth, Mr. Cubbison is certainly credentialed and capable, and has done an outstanding job of weaving together a consistent account of the battle from multiple sources.  He is to be commended for a comprehensive and scholarly study and analysis (not to mention that we were pleased to see that The Captain’s Journal merited two citations in the massive bibliography).

I have always believed that the campaign in Afghanistan is under-resourced, a sentiment underscored by Lt. Brostrom’s remarks.  In addition to the need for better logistics and more troops (needs that Mr. Cubbison noted and in fact highlights), I hold that opening the VPB (Vehicle Patrol Base) Wanat was ill advised under the circumstances (waiting approximately one year while negotiating with the tribal elders for approval, this approval not forthcoming due to the fact that they feared being targeted by Taliban fighters because they were seen cavorting with the U.S.).  This delay allowed the Taliban to mass troops to near half Battalion size, a practice we have observed occurs whenever the Taliban believe that they can grossly outnumber U.S. troops.

Under different circumstances, i.e., rapid base construction and deployment of the troops, VPB Wanat might have been much more successful and would have been advisable.  It might have been things that occurred one year prior to manning the base that doomed it.  I also believe that the physical location of OP (Observation Post) Top Side with its lack of control over the surrounding terrain, was extremely ill advised.  Had an OP been needed and a good site not located, VPB Wanat might have had to be constructed in a different location.  Remember that eight of the nine who perished that fateful night did so either defending or attempting to relieve OP Top Side.

Mr. Cubbison also goes into some detail considering other tactical and weapons failures (specifically at OP Top Side).  Due to rate of fire issues, there were numerous weapons systems failures (e.g., jamming) of SAWs, M4s and M16A2s.  I know one Marine who has trained his “boots” hard in the art of rate of fire and other measures to keep their SAWs from jamming and the barrels from melting.  Clearing jams within mere seconds is necessary for proper functioning of the Soldier and Marine and his .223 closed bolt system of arms, and Soldiers and Marines must be extensively trained to accomplish this under duress.

Mr. Cubbison goes into other important details such as placement of mortars that could have potentially effected a different outcome had different choices been made.  There were numerous tactical and logistical issues with which to contend in his important analysis.

In my humble opinion, Mr. Cubbison’s analysis goes awry when tackling the elements of population-centric counterinsurgency.  Colonel William B. Ostlund documents the kinetic engagements during the deployment in his analysis of lessons learned.

Ultimately, the task force was involved in 1,100 enemy contacts. Those engagements required:
●5,400 fire missions (expending 36,500 rounds).
●3,800 aerial deliveries (bombs and gun runs).
●23 Javelin anti-tank missiles.
●108 TOW missiles.
●Hundreds of grenades thrown.
The enemy routinely engaged at the maximum effective
range, but on at least five occasions were close enough to touch Americans. Twenty-six members of Task Force Rock gave their lives in Kunar Province. Other noteworthy Soldier statistics include:
●143 wounded.
●Three nominated for the Medal of Honor.
●Two nominated for the Distinguished Service Cross (one awarded by the time of this publication).
●25 Silver Stars awarded.
●90 Bronze Star Medals with Valor awarded.
●Over 300 Army Commendation Medals with Valor awarded.

Mr. Cubbison reviews this data and remarks that:

“TF Rock was unable to provide commensurate statistics for Shuras conducted, VETCAPS and MEDCAPS performed, quantities of Humanitarian Supplies distributed, economic development projects initiated, schools constructed, or similar economic, political and diplomatic initiatives.”

Later, he also concludes that population-centric counterinsurgency is not consistent with such heavy kinetics.  I have always attempted to be open, honest and clear with my readers on this issue.  I reject the single center of gravity focus of the Clausewitz school and favor the notion of lines of effort in any counterinsurgency campaign.  There is absolutely no reason to place protecting the population over against killing the enemy.  Moreover, many COIN campaigns can be more neatly placed into phases, with heavier kinetics dominating the initial stages and more population-centric tactics dominating the subsequent stages.

I don’t see the heavy kinetics as a failure on the part of TF Rock.  As The Captain’s Journal has also stated many times before, we see force projection and the actual need to apply force as inversely proportional.  The small footprint model almost guarantees that heavy kinetics will ensue, pointing back once again to the resourcing of the campaign, not TF Rock’s effort in the campaign.  In Brostrom’s case, he didn’t even have enough troops to ensure force protection, let alone force projection.  In any case, while Mr. Cubbison did indeed focus some attention on the issue of population-centric COIN, Tom Ricks has very badly misinterpreted the study if he concluded that the weight of the study is pointed towards this aspect.  The balance of the report is pointed at tactical, logistical and weapons related issues.  Mr. Ricks is only seeing what he wants to see, a sign of bad analysis.

Finally, as to the issue of Congressional investigations, I have mixed feelings about this.  Colonel Brostrom wants to see justice, or at least, lessons learned, as a result of the death of his beloved son.  I understand.  But Congressional investigations invariably turn into witch hunts, with blame focused on everyone but Senators and Congressmen.  More often than not nothing good comes from them.  The Captain’s Journal has some readers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  While there are good people in both – and you know who you are – you also know what becomes of Congressional investigations.

If I was convinced that anything fruitful would come from such a thing I would press for it.  I am not, and will not.  The campaign for Afghanistan is under-resourced, and it’s difficult to carry out the mission in such circumstances.  This theme has been consistent with us, and will continue to be as long as we have breath.  Instead of doing investigations, send more troops and equipment.

Prior:

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Battle of Wanat Disputed?

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
5 years, 11 months ago

Stars and Stripes summarizes the investigation into the battle of Wanat, and links a redacted version of the report: “AR 15-6 Investigation Findings and Recommendations – Vehicle Patrol Base (VPB) Wanat Complex Attack and Casualties,13 July 2008,” Part 1 and Part 2.

The AR 15-6 provides a fairly detailed analysis and event time line of the battle, and we learn quite a bit about the things that led up to the battle and the ensuing casualties. The report necessarily ends with findings and opinion concerning force protection among other things, and several observations of the battle and subject report are warranted.

The Waygul Valley and in particular the location of the Wanat VPB is in steep, rugged terrain, and location of any sort of combat outpost (or VPB) was risky from the standpoint of force protection, but the decision had been made approximately one year earlier to move COP (Combat Outpost) Bella to VPB Wanat due to the fertile human terrain for counterinsurgency.

The meetings with tribal and governmental officials to procure territory for VPB Wanat went on for about one year, and one elder privately said to U.S. Army officers that given the inherent appearance of tribal agreement with the outpost, it would be best if the Army simply constructed the base without interaction with the tribes. As it turns out, the protracted negotiations allowed AAF (anti-Afghan forces, in this case an acronym for Taliban, including some Tehrik-i-Taliban) to plan and stage a complex attack well in advance of turning the first shovel full of sand to fill HESCO barriers.

VPB Wanat did indeed have concertina wire, HESCO barriers and other means of force protection, but in every direction the base was on the low ground. One particularly fateful decision was the construction and garrisoning of Observation Post “Top Side,” which sat on slightly higher ground to the East of VPB Wanat.

Just before the battle began on July 12, 2008, troops from VPB Wanat observed men they believed to be enemy combatants positioning and preparing for battle, but consistent with a theme here at The Captain’s Journal, decision-making is not given latitude in these circumstances (e.g., no PID, not actively engaged in hostilities against U.S. troops at the time, or whatever the case – this portion of the report is redacted. See TCJ coverage of Rules of Engagement).

At 2350, AAF initiated a large scale attack on VPB Wanat and OP Top Side. The enemy numbering several hundred were located at the perimeter of the VPB and in surrounding buildings and from hillsides at elevated positions compared to VPB Wanat. The enemy engaged primarily with automatic weapons and RPGs.

OP Top Side was also under heavy attack by the enemy. In fact, of the 36 casualties suffered in this battle (nine dead, 27 wounded), nine were sustained in the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the attack, specifically at OP Top Side. The enemy were close enough to engage OP Top Side by throwing grenades and shooting automatic rifles from no more than twenty meters.

In response to calls for help, three waves were sent to reinforce OP Top Side. Of the first wave, two more U.S. soldiers died while attempting to set up a machine gun position. The second wave of reinforcements saw the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth U.S. casualties. Of these fifteen casualties, eight perished attempting to defend OP Top Side (out a total of nine dead in the totality of the battle of Wanat that night).

There were between 21 and 52 AAF killed and 45 wounded. Considering a clinical assessment of kill ratio can be a pointer to the level of risk associated with this VPB and OP. 21/9 = 2.33, 52/9 = 5.77 (2.33 – 5.77), and 45/27 = 1.67. These are very low compared to historical data (on the order of 10:1).

One bright spot in the battle concerns air support. Close Air Support (CAS) was initiated within 27 minutes of start of the battle, and Close Combat Aviation (CCA) was initiated within 62 minutes of start of the battle. Aircraft supporting U.S. troops includes B-1 bombers, F-15s, A-10s and AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters. Multiple “gun runs” were conducted “danger close” to U.S. troops.

One key breakdown in force protection pertained to intelligence. Multiple villagers, including tribal elders, had told multiple U.S. troops that an attack on VPB Wanat was imminent, but the assumption that such an attack would be probative caused little concern among the leadership. But the enlisted ranks included men who knew what was coming. Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected that his days were numbered, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan. “It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone in what would be their last conversation.

In fact, there had been daily reports of 200-300 fighters massing to attack COP Bella in the first 10 days of July before transfer of operations to VPB Wanat, and while U.S. forces anticipated a transfer of enemy activity to Wanat, they didn’t anticipate such heavy conventional operations. The AAF fielded a company-sized force to attack OP Top Side and VPB Wanat.

While we witnessed the adolescent fawning over Nir Rosen’s embedding with the Taliban (to which The Captain’s Journal was unimpressed and claimed that all of the information was already known without his having whored himself to the enemy), the real question is not why we haven’t listened to Nir Rosen. Rosen is irrelevant. The question is why U.S. intelligence would ignore reports directly from tribal elders in the town in which they wish to conduct COIN, thus losing nine sons of America.

There is also the issue of OP Top Side and whether such an Observation Post should have been garrisoned with so little force protection and such proximity and elevational vulnerabilities. Again, eight of the nine U.S. troops who perished that fateful night did so as a result of OP Top Side.

More broadly, the implementation of combat outposts (or VPB, or OP) should consider the modern day origins of such practice, i.e., the Marines in Anbar. COPs were “hopscotched” across Ramadi and other cities in Anbar (combined COP and police precincts in Fallujah), and while reinforcements were within minutes of each COP in Anbar, the first reinforcements arrived at VPB Wanat approximately two hours after start of the battle. While the terrain in Afghanistan is more rural, wide open and unfriendly to COPs located so closely together, still, the notion of a COP relies on reinforcements in close proximity.

Afghanistan is still an under-resourced campaign, as both Generals McNeill and McKiernan have told us. Counterinsurgency TTPs can only be implemented if the campaign is treated as COIN rather than counterterrorism operations against high value targets.

Finally, in the future, the Army would do well to consider the Marines in Helmand and their COIN tactics.  Kinetic operations served as the basis for reconstruction efforts, and no Marine asked for permission to attack Garmser.  More than 400 Taliban died as a result of Marine operations in Helmand.  One year of planning to open an COP at Wanat is about 11.5 months wasted.

In summary, while the TTP of VPB Wanat and OP Top Side were questionable, and while Afghanistan is an underresourced campaign, the men who fought that fateful night were brave in the superlative. America should be justly proud of her sons who fought with such valor.

Battle of Wanat Disputed?

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 3 months ago

In Nine U.S. Soldiers Killed in Kunar, Afghanistan: What Can We Learn? we covered the Taliban attack on a combat outpost in the Kunar Province, specifically near Wanat.  We’ll call it the Battle of Wanat, for which there is already a Wikipedia entry.

But command is vigorously disputing the media presentation of events surrounding the battle of Wanat.

“The sky is not falling,” Col. Charles “Chip” Preysler, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, said Saturday from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

Preysler spoke via telephone less than a week after his paratroops and their Afghan allies were involved in a fierce attack at a small post near the village of Wanat. In the July 13 battle, nine of his men were killed and 15 others wounded.

But the attack is not a sign of conditions worsening in the country, he said.

The battle occurred just after dawn at a temporary vehicle patrol base near Wanat. A platoon-sized element of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) soldiers and a smaller Afghan National Army force were occupying a hastily built area as they had done many times over the 15 months they’d been in country, Preysler said. The soldiers were there on a reconnaissance mission to establish a presence and find a good location to connect with the local government, populace and Afghan National Police, he said.

The small outpost had been built just days before the attack and consisted of protective wire and observation posts surrounding strategically placed vehicles. “That’s all it was, a series of vehicles that went out there,” Preysler said.

“People are saying that this was a full-up [forward operating base]/combat outpost, and that is absolutely false and not true. There were no walls,” Preysler said, latter adding, “FOB denotes that there are walls and perimeters and all that. It’s a vehicle patrol base, temporary in nature.”

But that doesn’t mean the soldiers were not prepared to take on the enemy, he said …

The Army did not “abandon” the base after the attack, as many media reporters have suggested, Preysler said.

He said the decision to move from the location following the attack was to reposition, which his men have done countless times throughout their tour, and to move closer to the local seat of government.

“If there’s no combat outpost to abandon, there’s no position to abandon,” he said. “It’s a bunch of vehicles like we do on patrol anywhere and we hold up for a night and pick up any tactical positions that we have with vehicle patrol bases.

“We do that routinely…. We’re always doing that when go out and stay in an area for longer then a few hours, and that’s what it is. So there is nothing to abandon. There was no structures, there was no COP or FOB or anything like that to even abandon. So, from the get-go, that is just [expletive], and it’s not right.”

He also didn’t like the media’s characterization that his men were “overrun.”

“As far as I know, and I know a lot, it was not overrun in any shape, manner or form,” an emotional Preysler said. “It was close combat to be sure — hand grenade range. The enemy never got into the main position. As a matter of fact, it was, I think, the bravery of our soldiers reinforcing the hard-pressed observation post, or OP, that turned the tide to defeat the enemy attack.”

Though Preysler and his staff have seen several reports on the fight and numbers of enemy, he said true specifics still remain unclear.

“I do not know the exact numbers. But I know they had much greater strength than one U.S. platoon,” he said. “I believe the enemy to number over 100 in that area when he attacked. I don’t know the casualties that he took, but I know that it’s got to be substantial based on the different reports I’m getting. We may not know the true damage we inflicted on the enemy, but we certainly defeated his attack and repulsed his attack and he never got into our position.”

Preysler and his staff also object to media reports that because of the size of the attack, it could be a harbinger of change in the way militants fight in eastern Afghanistan.

“I think people are taking license and just misusing statistics, and I refuse to do that,” he said …

The Captain’s Journal proudly reminds the reader that we’ve advocated an increase in forces, realignment of forces from NATO to CENTCOM, and a change in strategy for NATO for more than six months.  The Battle of Wanat wasn’t misused at TCJ, as we have documented the diminution of security for half a year.  The two graphics below show recent U.S. deaths in OIF and OEF, and long term U.S. deaths in OEF, respectively.

Courtesy of CNN.

But the Battle of Wanat shows an increased intensity of kinetic engagement for the Taliban, as well as a massing of higher numbers of fighters than seen recently.  But the statistics tell a story regardless of the Battle of Wanat.

Further, the information we learn from Colonel Preysler leads to the notion that there was less force protection than even a combat outpost.  He points to the “temporary” nature of the outpost, but this is not meaningful given that no FOB or COP is permanent.  This might be fruitful terrain for more investigation to learn the lessons of the battle.

Colonel Preysler is understandably jealous for the preservation of the bravery of his troops.  But this goes without saying.  No one thinking rightly would doubt that.  But preservation of bravery doesn’t change the battle space dynamics in which nine U.S. troops died on that fateful day, fifteen were wounded amounting to more than half of the U.S. force counted as casualties, and no Afghan deaths were reported (leading us to surmise that the primary engagement was between the Taliban and U.S. with the Afghan troops sitting on the sidelines of the battle).

The “sky is not falling,” but nine brave U.S. warriors are dead now, and questions remain as to the propriety of this engagement without the proper force projection, force protection or troop presence.  At least one Corporal knew what was coming.  Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling suspected that his days were numbered last week, while he and his band of brothers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team prepared for a mission near Wanat, Afghanistan.  “It’s gonna be a bloodbath,” he told his father, Kurt Zwilling, on the phone in what would be their last conversation.

May Corporal Zwilling and his brothers rest in peace.  Despite Colonel Preysler’s defense of his troops, in addition to the remarkable bravery, the story is one of need for forces.  It doesn’t do his troops, his unit, or Operation Enduring Freedom any good to deny the reality on the ground.


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