As a followup to Blaming The Gun For The Battle Losses, WeaponsMan posted an interesting response.
… we think he’s missing the degree to which the terrain favored the enemy, and we think he’s missing the very-close nature of some of the enemy positions. True, some of the crew-serveds were 900 meters out, but a lot of bad guys were within 100 meters, in trees, buildings and behind cob walls. It was a knife fight, compounded by the fact that the enemy alone had good covered and concealed firing positions.
Then, there’s one minor point where he’s off on a factual item: he suggests they should have had DMRs armed and designated. They did, but the only one on OP Topside was killed instantly, in the first enemy volley; he had no chance to employ his M21 (a sniper-fied M14). Topside was well equipped with machine guns (2 x 240 and 1 x 249)… and well-supplied with valor.
Topside’s crappy position didn’t offer good cover, concealment, observation, and fields of fire — only to the enemy. It was a lousy position for an OP, for MGs, or for snipers. But the officer that picked it was concerned that it would have direct line-of-sight to the main position so that it could be reinforced (or withdrawn) if need be.
Well, it’s difficult if not impossible to mention everything at one time in a single article. I did indeed mention terrain, and in multiple previous posts. I suppose there was a way that a VPB could have worked at that location, but they would have had to find a way to mitigate the advantage they offered to the enemy with the choice of terrain. They didn’t. Similar to WeaponsMan, I was highly critical of the way Topside was chosen and manned.
As to the DMs, I suppose I could make myself clearer than I did in the previous article. I am not saying that they didn’t have DMs. I am saying that they should have had multiple DMs. Marine Battalions deploy with an entire Scout Sniper platoon, while at the same time having DMs in the other platoons. My son was a DM even though he was a SAW gunner, meaning that he had gone through all of the shooting qualifications Scout Snipers do, without the field testing for ingress, concealment, and egress. Daniel told me he thought he lacked the discipline for that (one Scout Sniper told me that during field testing he inadvertently crawled on top of a red ant hill, was bitten hundreds of times, but had to remain still in order not to be detected).
Continuing at WeaponsMan:
The Paratroopers at Wanat were thrown into a buzzsaw by well-intentioned and bold commanders, who thought they could get away with it just long enough for the small element there to build a secure COP. (Remember, they opened it on the 9th of July and neck-deep in malignant hadjis on the 13th, with the position still in the hasty-establishment mode). Other Taliban assaults in Nuristan had taken longer before the enemy massed, up to a month. And these prior attacks had displayed specific indicators, you might say signatures, and American leaders worked on the assumption that they had about the same time before an attack at Wanat was an enemy capability, and the assumption that they again would receive these indicators and signatures of enemy positioning. As it happened, Wanat appears to have been closer to home for the insurgents, and they didn’t generate the distinct signatures that they had done before other attacks like the one on COP Bella.
Oh, but there’s much more to it than that.
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 …
I have contrasted this practice with how the Marines have done it under the umbrella and command structure of the MAGTF (this URL is cited on page 255 of the Cubbison report), and while I don’t know how the VPB at Wanat was constructed (by a contractor like KBR?), it could have be accomplished much sooner. This failure was a catalyst for the massing of enemy forces.
Let’s return to OP Topside for a moment to mention one very important fact. “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.”