Archive for the 'Battle of Wanat' Category



Hating On The M4 And AR-15

BY Herschel Smith
1 month, 3 weeks ago

Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times has written a lengthy piece on the battle of Wanat (or Want), that I covered in so much detail.  Hating on the M4 plays a prominent role in the article.  Part 1 is here, while part 2 is here.  A sampling of quotes follows.

The warrant officer said he and fellow Special Forces soldiers have a trick to maintain the M4A1 — the commando version: They break the rules and buy off-the-shelf triggers and other components and overhaul the weapon themselves.

“The reliability is not there,” Warrant Officer Kramer said of the standard-issue model. “I would prefer to use something else. If I could grab something else, I would” …

In 2002, an internal report from the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey said the M4A1 was prone to overheating and “catastrophic barrel failure,” according to a copy obtained by The Times …

A former Army historian who chronicled the infamous Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, where nine U.S. soldiers died after their M4 carbines jammed, tells The Washington Times that his official account was altered by higher-ups to absolve the weapons and senior officers …

But the gun’s supporters have pointed to a single sentence in the official Wanat history issued in 2010 by the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. It blamed the gun’s sustained rapid fire that day, not its design, for the malfunctions.

“This, not weapons maintenance deficiencies or inherent weaknesses in weapons design, was the reason a number of weapons jammed during the battle,” the sentence read.

Higher-ups inside Army command edited that sentence into the history, the report’s author says.

“That was not my conclusion,” said Douglas R. Cubbison, a former Army artillery officer and principal Wanat history author. “That was the Combat Studies Institute management that was driven from the chief of staff’s office to modify findings of that report to basically CYA [cover your ass] for the Army. You know how that works.

“Other soldiers have informally told me of similar problems they had with the M4 at high rates of fire,” said Mr. Cubbison, who is now curator of the Wyoming Veterans Memorial Museum …

Higher-ups made other changes, such as removing much of the historian’s criticism of senior officers for not better preparing the outpost for an attack.

I have a copy of the (I believe unedited version) Cubbison report.  I agreed not to divulge the contents of the report except to comment on the content (rather than reproduce the content).

There were indeed many problems associated with Wanat, such as ensconcing a unit too small to defend the location, Taliban massing of forces (to approximately a Battalion size force), something I had tracked and discussed at length.  There was also the lack of logistical support, lack of (or untimely) CAS, lack of heavier weaponry, and delay of more than one year in setting up the FOB, allowing the enemy to make careful plans for his attack.

I scoured my e-mail thinking that I had exchanged mail with Mr. Cubbison, but I couldn’t find any.  In any case, I found Cubbison’s writing to be clear, well crafted, and well researched.  He is a good historian.  But on the issue of the M4 I disagree with Mr. Cubbison (although I will stipulated that it is extremely bad form to change the prose of another author just because it is uncomfortable to read it).

I’ve heard it all before, this idea that the gas-operated rotating bolt system allows the AK to cool better than the direct impingement system that Eugene Stoner designed.  This isn’t the whole story.  The AK-47 is also a less accurate design, is prone to malfunctions in the field (according to first hand reports I trust), is heavier and fires heavier ammunition, and as one crusty old Marine general said, plenty of Marines have survived a shot by 7.62 X 39.

Any weapon system has its advantages and disadvantages.  Give Soldiers an M14 and they will complain that it’s too heavy (like they did in the jungles of Vietnam).  They will complain that its ammunition is too heavy and they can’t carry as much (and they will be right, considering that kit is now around 80 pounds without ruck, 120-130 pounds for a couple of nights out in the field).

Does this mean that they shouldn’t carry an M14, Remington 700 or Winchester Model 70 for long range shooting?  No.  Should a DM (designated marksman) with the unit be prepared to shoot DM rifles?  Yes.

But shooting uphill should also be taught at the ranges (the report correctly notes the difficulties associated with being in a valley), and fire control should be taught and emphasized for a multitude of reasons.  As my son put it to me, “shooting 500 rounds in 30 minutes means that you’re shooting at everything, and at nothing.  And it also means that you’re making yourself a target.”

Compare the high rate of fire with one lesson learned from this Marine Corps engagement in Afghanistan when faced with massing of troops.

Fire Discipline: Engagements have lasted from two to forty hours of sustained combat.  Marines must be careful to conserve rounds because there may not be any way to replenish their ammunition and it is not practical or recommended to carry an excessive number of magazines.  Marines took a few moments to apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and this greatly improved the ratio of shots fired to enemy fighters killed.  Crew Served Weapons do not always need to be fired at the rapid rate.  Good application of shoulder pressure will tighten beaten zones and lead to effective suppression. Talking guns will help conserve ammunition.

Finally, Travis Haley has shown what can be accomplished with precision fire using a scoped AR-15 with a 20″ barrel.

The Eugene Stoner design is well-suited for CQB and up to 400 meters, firing with low recoil (thus allowing quick target reacquisition), and carrying large quantities of ammunition.  It is also known for the projectile’s yaw in flight and significant tissue damage.

Ridiculous counterinsurgency strategy and stupid flag and staff officers are responsible for the failures at Wanat.  Cubbison’s study is correct about that.  But the M4 (and AR-15) still stands out as a superior weapon system for all but extreme distance shooting.

As one last comment (and this one is perhaps the most interesting to me), take note of the post date of my article on Cubbison (it was four and a half years ago).  The Washington Times is just now getting around to writing about this, or perhaps just learning about the Cubbison study.

Main stream media really should pay more attention to blogs.  It makes them look very out of touch and slow to respond when they are so unaware of things going on with their competitors.

Assigning Blame in the Battle of Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 3 months ago

From Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post:

The Army’s official history of the battle of Wanat – one of the most intensely scrutinized engagements of the Afghan war – largely absolves top commanders of the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers and instead blames the confusing and unpredictable nature of war.

The history of the July 2008 battle was almost two years in the making and triggered a roiling debate at all levels of the Army about whether mid-level and senior battlefield commanders should be held accountable for mistakes made under the extreme duress of combat.

An initial draft of the Wanat history, which was obtained by The Washington Post and other media outlets in the summer of 2009, placed the preponderance of blame for the losses on the higher-level battalion and brigade commanders who oversaw the mission, saying they failed to provide the proper resources to the unit in Wanat.

The final history, released in recent weeks, drops many of the earlier conclusions and instead focuses on failures of lower-level commanders.

The battle of Wanat, which took place in a remote mountain village near the Pakistan border, produced four investigations and sidetracked the careers of several Army officers, whose promotions were either put on hold or canceled. The 230-page Army history is likely to be the military’s last word on the episode, and reflects a growing consensus within the ranks that the Army should be cautious in blaming battlefield commanders for failures in demanding wars such as the conflict in Afghanistan.

Family members of the deceased at Wanat reacted with anger and disappointment to the final version of the Army history.

“They blame the platoon-level leadership for all the mistakes at Wanat,” said retired Col. David Brostrom, whose son was killed in the fighting. “It blames my dead son. They really missed the point.”

The initial investigation, conducted by a three-star Marine Corps general and completed in the spring, found that the company and battalion commanders were “derelict in their duty” to provide proper oversight and resources to the soldiers fighting at Wanat.

Petraeus reviewed the findings and concluded that based on Army doctrine, the brigade commander, who was the senior U.S. officer in the area, also failed in his job. He recommended that all three officers be issued letters of reprimand, which would essentially end their careers.

After the officers appealed their reprimands, a senior Army general in the United States reversed the decision to punish the officers, formerly members of the the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Gen. Charles Campbell told family members of the deceased that the letters of reprimand would have a chilling effect on other battlefield commanders, who often must make difficult decisions with limited information, according to a tape of his remarks. He also concluded that the deaths were not the direct result of the officers’ mistakes.

The Army’s final history of the Wanat battle largely echoes Campbell’s conclusions, citing the role of “uncertainty [as] a factor inseparable from any military operation.”

In its conclusions, the study maintains that U.S. commanders had a weak grasp of the area’s complicated politics, causing them to underestimate the hostility to a U.S. presence in Wanat.

“Within the valley communities there had been hundreds of years of intertribal and intercommunity conflict, magnified by hundreds of years of geographic isolation. Understanding the cultural antagonisms present in [Wanat] was difficult and complicated,” it said. “Coalition leaders had difficulty understanding the political situation.”

But the history focuses mostly on the failures of lower-level commanders to patrol aggressively in the area around Wanat as they were building their defenses. It also criticizes 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, a 24-year-old platoon leader, for placing a key observation point in an area that did not provide the half-dozen U.S. soldiers placed there a broad enough view to spot the enemy.

“The placement of the OP [Observation Post] is perhaps the most important factor contributing to the course of the engagement at Wanat,” the report states.

The initial investigation, by contrast, found that the placement of the post was not a major factor in the outcome of the battle.

That investigation also found that mid-level Army officers failed to plan the operation beyond the first four days and as a result failed to provide sufficient manpower, water and other resources to defend the base from a Taliban attack. The official history makes little mention of such conclusions.

Analysis & Commentary

This information and perspective is mostly known to regular readers of The Captain’s Journal.  We have discussed the Battle of Wanat many times before, and linked the final report as soon as it was released (as well as commented on the original Cubbison report).

The main theme of Jaffe’s analysis is the reversal of reprimands for senior staff level officers and the switch to holding lower level field grade officers accountable for the failures.  But there are other aspects as well, and we must address those in order to crawl through the weeds.  Unfortunately, the weeds block our view and add little to nothing to the overall reality of the situation.

One such weed garden is this notion that:

“Within the valley communities there had been hundreds of years of intertribal and intercommunity conflict, magnified by hundreds of years of geographic isolation. Understanding the cultural antagonisms present in [Wanat] was difficult and complicated,” it said. “Coalition leaders had difficulty understanding the political situation.”

Maybe true, maybe significant for other considerations, and maybe frustrating, but irrelevant in this context (the battle proper, and whom to hold accountable for what happened).  It’s just weeds that block our view.  In Analysis of the Battle of Wanat, we discussed how “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.”

Local intelligence, also from tribal elders, pointed to massing of forces and planned attacks on VPB Wanat.  However complicated the tribal machinations and our attempts to understand them, they weren’t so complicated that we didn’t have good intelligence or even good counsel.  Had we followed the elder’s advice, the patrol base might have been manned and fortified well before the massing of forces that occurred by the Taliban, and in fact local atmospherics might have been different with time for interaction with U.S. forces.

But if the notion of tribal complexities is a smoke screen, so is the issue of limitations in weapons capabilities.  As we have discussed before:

It’s tempting to point the finger at weapons systems, just as it is tempting to fault the company with lack of soft COIN efforts.  But in the end, they were outnumbered about 6:1 (300+ to about 50), they were on a poor choice of terrain, they had poor logistics, they suffered lack of air and artillery support, and most importantly, they simply were never given the proper number of troops or the resources to engage in force protection, much less robust force projection.  They were under-resourced, and no analysis of weapons systems can change that fact.  Rather than focus on why the M4 jams after firing 360 rounds in 30 minutes, the real question is why this particular M4 had to be put through this kind of test to begin with?

It’s wise to deploy the right weapons for the job, and if that means that each squad carries an M-14 for the DM position, then so be it.  Commanding officers should make that happen.  There are plenty of M-14s left in our armories, and they should be put to use in the longer distance engagements.  But in the end weapons systems malfunctions is simply not a compelling excuse or even one of the root causes of what happened at Wanat.  It just isn’t, and time spent on worrying over that is time wasted.

Col. David Brostrom is rightfully indignant over his son’s role in the report.  Dead men cannot defend themselves, and Lt. Brostrom represents too easy of a target.  In that respect, the final report is petty and cowardly.  Nonetheless, I maintained, and continue to maintain, that OP Top Side was a poor tactical choice.

Most of the men who perished that fateful day did so attempting to defend or relieve OP Top Side (8 of the 9 who perished), and the kill ratio that day still favored the U.S. troops (“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).”).

In previous discussions, one commenter weighs in with the following:

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.

Strange analysis, this is.  OP Top Side proved to be the Achilles heal of the whole VPB.  Without having to relieve it, it is probable that most of the men who perished that fateful night would not have.  More salient is this comment by Slab:

Where I think you hit the nail on the head is when you mention the terrain. The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population. This was a significant risk, and I don’t see any indication that they attempted to sufficiently mitigate that risk. I can empathize a little bit – I was the first Marine on deck at Camp Blessing back when it was still Firebase Catamount, in late 2003. I took responsibility for the camp’s security from a platoon from the 10th Mountain Div, and established a perimeter defense around it. Looking back, I don’t think I adequately controlled the key terrain around the camp. The platoon that replaced me took some steps to correct that, and I think it played a significant role when they were attacked on March 22nd of 2004. COIN theorists love to say that the population is the key terrain, but I think Wanat shows that ignoring the existing natural terrain in favor of the population is a risky proposition, especially in Afghanistan.

Moving on to Bing West’s analysis of assigning blame for Wanat, he observes:

In my forthcoming book, The Wrong War, I describe Wanat in the larger context of a multi-year struggle for control of the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan. Grave tactical and operational errors culminated in the Wanat battle. In The Wrong War, I conclude that at the operational level of war, Wanat “provided the classic case study of how insurgents conquer a superior foe. . . . The Americans intended to separate the people from the insurgents. Instead, the insurgents succeeded in separating the people from the Americans.”

Reporting from the Wanat area on Monday, Jaffe quoted the on-scene U.S. battalion commander as saying, “We fight here because the enemy is here. The enemy fights here because we are here. The best thing we can do is to pull back, and let the Afghans figure this place out.” The essential problem in the valley that includes Wanat was not a tactical mistake. The vexing nature of the tribal loyalties in eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border far transcends the conduct of a single battle.

The Army, however, was heavy-handed and obtuse in handling the reviews of the Wanat battle. Many officers disagreed with the reviewing generals who recommended the reprimands, and others disagreed with Cubbison’s draft. Combat veterans can make a reasonable case one way or the other. But for the Army as an institution to zig-zag invites criticism and raises unhelpful suspicions.

At a larger level, the incident illustrates the inherent problem in the promotion system of all the services. Errors happen in every war. Often victory goes to the side making the fewer mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes: Washington at Great Meadow and later Long Island, Lee at Gettysburg, Halsey and the typhoons, Chesty Puller at Peleliu, MacArthur and the Chosin, etc.

One of the three officers at Wanat cited by Petraeus for reprimand is a superb officer; I believe he would make a fine field general. It should be possible for a selection board to assess a reprimand, place it in balance against an entire career and continue to promote an outstanding officer. In business, CEOs fail miserably and are rewarded, illustrating the selfish, back-scratching nature of too many corporate boards of trustees; in the military, the services demand that an officer receive upwards of 40 fitness reports without a blemish in order to qualify for general officer selection. The services thus institutionally tend to reward the cautious, rather than the bold.

Separating the people from the Americans is also a bit exaggerated (or at least, somewhat irrelevant) when discussing the battle proper.  Using only open source information, we can develop patterns of behavior with the Taliban that would have alerted U.S. commanders to expect such massing of forces.  If I can do it, Army intelligence can do it.  Good historiography brings in all elements of the problem to set the proper context, but even with proper context the basic outline of the problem doesn’t change.

There weren’t enough U.S. forces.  It took too long to set up VPB Wanat.  The Taliban worked much more quickly than did we in setting up their military operations.  The U.S. sacrificed control of key terrain around VPB Wanat – and especially OP Top Side – in an attempt to provide proximity to the population.  They summarily ignored both tribal counsel to set up the patrol base and tribal intelligence concerning massing of forces and imminent attacks, attacks that in fact followed tactics that could even be known by studying open source information.

Bing weighs in on holding officers accountable, and demurs insofar as it costs us openness and a learning environment.  Whatever.  I will observe that Marine Corps concepts of force projection and force protection are different and generally more aggressive.  Aggressiveness could have helped in the Waygul valley, but their aggressiveness was limited by the lack of resources.

Col. Brostrom is right about holding commanding officers accountable.  If his son objected to the placement of OP Top Side, so much the better.  But whatever responsibility must be shouldered for the engagement, it increases with increasing rank.  Pressing authority up and accountability down is the tactic of cowards.  Refusing to hold higher ranking officers accountable for fear of creating a climate of suspicion runs both directions.  If we cannot hold senior officers accountable, then neither can we (morally and rightly) hold lower ranking field grade officers accountable.  And if we hold anyone accountable, higher authority means shouldering more of the responsibility.  It’s just the way it is.  This is true in the family, in business, in relationships, and in church.  To claim that it could be anything else in the military is laughable and worthy of ridicule.

Prior:

Drone Front and Other Recommended Reading

Close Air Support of COP Kahler at Wanat

What Really Happened at Wanat?

Wanat Officers Issued Career-Ending Reprimands

Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer

Second-Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Wanat Video II

Wanat Video

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

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

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Drone Front and Other Recommended Reading

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 4 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.

Close Air Support of COP Kahler at Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 8 months ago

From the Wikileaks link for the defense of COP Kahler at Wanat (unfortunately, you must bear with the capital lettering, there is nothing I can do about it):

S: UKN A: SAF L: FRIENDLY: 42S XD 73985 80487 23:54 ROCKL: ENEMY: 42S XD 74488 80992 T: 12 2353 JULY 08 U: TF ROCK: C.CO R: SAF, 155MM TF ROCK REQUESTS CAS AND CCA ISO TIC 2358z: COP HAS RECEIVED EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG ATT. ONE VEHICLE IS ON FIRE ATT. ALL PERSONNEL HAVE BEEN MOVE FROM THE VEHICLE. 0000z: COP KHALER HAS SUSTAINED 2XCASUALTIES ATT. 0004z UPDATE TO CASULATIES NOW HAVE 3XURGENT SURGICAL CASUALTIES. 0006z: AAF ARE LOCATED 100M WEST OF COP KAHLER. CURRENTLY ENGAGING WITH 155MM AND 120MM, CONTINUING TO RECEIVE EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG 0014Z BONE-23 ON STATION 0016z: COP KAHLER IS CONTINUING TO RECIEVE EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG. OP KAHLER IS UNDER EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG. 0022Z DUDE-27 ON STATION 0024z: COP KHALER HAS A TOTAL OF 9 CASUALTIES ATT. STILL RECEIVING EFFECTIVE SAF. 0028Z SIJAM DEVIRTED 0029z: AAF ARE MANUVERING IVO OP KHALER. AAF ARE VERY CLOSE TO THE WIRE OF COP KHALER. AAF CONTINUING TO ENGAGE WITH EFFECTIVE SAF AND RPG. 0035z: CAS IS PREPAIRING TO REATTACK CAS TGT A. 0048Z DUDE-15 ENROUTE 0053z: COP KHALER IS RECEIVING SPORADIC SAF ATT. CCA CURRERNTLY MOVING INTO THE VALLEY ATT. 0056Z BONE-23 DROPPED 3xGBU-38s 0100z: CAS (DUDE-27) IS PREPAIRING TO CONDUCT A SHOW OF FORCE IN THE VALLEY. 0102Z CASEVAC AND SWT (2x OH-58 WEAPONS TEAM) PERPARING TO LAUNCH 0103z; CAS (DUDE-27) HAS COMPLETED SOF ATT. 0104z: MEDEVAC IS CURERNTLY INBOUND ATT TO COP KAHER FOR 1ST LIFT. 0108Z W/U JBAD ENROUTE TO COP KAHLER 0113Z BONE-23 DROPPED 1xGBU-38s 0122z: WILL UTILIZE THE OH’S TO ESCORT MEDEVAC A/C AND WILL CONTINUE TO USE AH’S TO SUPPORT COP KHALER. 0123z: AAF ARE CURRENTLY LOCATE WITHIN 400M TO THE WEST OF THE OP. CONTINUING TO UTILIZE AH’S ISO COP KAHLER. 0125z: MEDEVAC IS CURERNTLY W/D AT COP KAHLER ATT FOR FIRST LIFT. 0128z: ABLE COMPANY IS CURENTLY ENROUTE TO RE-ENFORCE COP KHALER ATT. 0138z: CHOSEN QRF HAS ARRIVED AT COP KHALER ATT. ABLE CO QRF WILL MOVE DIRECTLY TO COP KAHLER IOT RE-ENFORCE COP KHALER. 0152z: INTEL REPORTS HAVE INDICATED AN IED THREAT IN THE WANAT VALLEY IVO 42S XD 744 795 AND 42S XD 746 776. 0157z CASEVAC A/C ARE CURRENTLY W/D COP KHALER ATT. ABLE CO QRF IN MOVING INTO WANAT VALLEY ATT. 0203z: COP KHALER IS STILL RECEIVING SAF AND RPG’S ATT. 0215Z DUDE-27 ENGAGED ENEMY TARGETS WITH 1xGBU-31 0234z: CAS IS CURERNTLY ENGAGING CAS TGT. CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO-20. 0235Z DUDE-27 HAD DROPPED 4xGBU-38′s 0302Z HARDLUCK (2xAH-64′S) W/U BAF ENROUTE TO COP KHALER 0312Z DUDE-27 HAD DROPPED 1xGBU-31 0324z: UPDATE FOR COP KHALER: AAF IN WANAT ENGAGED COP KAHLER AND THE HEDGEROW ELEMENT FROM THE NORTH SIDE OF THE WANAT BAZAAR, THE MOSQUE, AND FROM DWELLINGS IN PROXIMITY OF THE COP. THE AAF MOVED THROUGH THE POPULATION. GOV WAHIDI (KONAR GOV) HAS ALREADY BEEN NOTIFIED AND DOING HIS OWN PRESS RELEASE. 0324z: COP KHALER OP IS RECEIVING EFFFECTIVE PKM ATT/CURERNTLY HAVE AN ADDITIONAL 3XWIA AT THE OP. 0327Z: D/O ELEMENT IS CURRENTLY ENROUTE ITO P/U ADDITIONAL CASULTIES. ~ 0355z: (AWT:HL76/74) LINKED UP WITH MEDEVAC (DO36/34) EN ROUTE TO FOB BLESSING. 0356z: CAS (B-1:BE11) CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT M. 0410z: ABLE 6 LINKED UP WITH CHOSEN 6, CONDUCTING RECONSOLIDATION, REORGANIZATION, AND EMPLACING SECURITY. 0413z: CCA (AWT:HL76/74) ON STATION CONTROLLED BY CHOSEN 6. 0415z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT L, CAS TGT O, AND CAS TGT P. 0434z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT J AND CAS TGT K. 0452z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT R AND CAS TGT S. 0530z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 ENGAGING CAS TGT Q AND CAS TGT Q.1 0549z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 PREPARING TO ENGAGE CAS TGT T AND CAS TGT V. 0600z: C6 REPORTS LRAS AND ITAS DESTROYED IN THE ATTACK, NO GBISR AVAILABLE AT COP KAHLER. 0607z: CAS RIP- CAS (A-10:HG53) ON STATION CONTROLLED BY VINO 20. 0642z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 ENGAGING HG TGT A. 0645z: CCA (AWT:HR50/53) ON STATION CONTROLLED BY C6. 0658z: CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 20 ENGAGING HG TGT B 0758z: PREDATOR OBSERVES THREE AAF MOVING EAST IVO XD 779 837. 0815z: PREDATOR PREPARING TO ENGAGE THREE AAF IVO XD 779 837 WITH HELLFIRE. 0821z: PREDATOR ENGAGED WITH HELLFIRE. CAS CONTROLLED BY VINO 24 PREPARING FOR RE-ATTACK. 0855z: REINFORCEMENT ACFT W/D COP KAHLER. 0903z: (AWT:HL74/76) ON STATION ISO COP KAHLER. 0940z: CURRENT FORCE AT COP KAHLER: 43 CHOSEN PAX 30 ABLE PAX 4 LLVI PAX 17 BATTLE PAX 5 ENGINEERS 1 THT 2 MEDICS 3 ETT 3 TERP 19 ANA 1130z: ROCK TAC(-) W/D COP KAHLER 1226z: PREDATOR, WARRIOR-A, AND CAS OBSERVING TWO PERSONNEL MANEUVERING IVO XD 742 792. 1442z: PREDATOR IDENTIFIED THREE PERSONNEL CARRYING EQUIPMENT IVO XD 7924 8248. 1448Z PT67(299) PT72(595) (WANAT RE-SUPPLY) W/U BLE ENROUTE COP KAHLER ~ 1555z: B-36 PID 2 AAF PAX MANUVERING INTO A FIGHTING POSITION LOCATED NORTH-WEST OF B-36 POSITION. CURRENTLY ENGAGING PID AAF PAX WITH SAF AND CCA IS MOVING TO B-36 POSITION ATT. 1559z: CCA IS CURRENTLY ENGAGING PID AAF PAX ATT. 1612z: LOCATION FOR PID AAF 42S XD 7424 8054. 1651z: TWO NEW INTEL EFFORTS HAVE BEEN MADE.ONE REFERENCES ICOM TRAFFIC AND THE OTHER IS A THREAT REPORT FOR COP KHALER. 1757z: AFGHAN COMMANDOS ARE CURERNTLY BEGINING CLEARENCE OPERATIONS OF DRAWS AROUND COP KHALER. 1846zCAS(SLASHER) HAS CHECKED ON STATION ATT. 1921:z BAJA (F-18) HAS REPORTED THEY HAVE RECEIVED SOME TYPE OF S/A FIRE THAT ORIGINATED 6 KILOMETERS TO WEST COP KHALER IN THE HIGH GROUND. 2121z: SLASHER HAS SPOTTED 4XPAX MOVING IVO 42S XD 778 807. CONTINUING TO OBS PAX ATT. 2147z:SLASHER IS STILL OBSERVING PAX. PAX ARE MOVING IN A MILITARY TYPE(STYLE) OF FORMATION. 2152z: SLASHER IS PREPAIRING TO ENGAGE PID AAF PAX. PID HAS BE EN DETERMINED BY PATTERNS OF LIFE IN THE AREA, PAX ARE MOVING IN ENGAGEMENT AREA AND PAX ARE TRYING TO AVOID CF A/C. 2156z: SLASHER IS ENGAGING PID AAF PAX ATT. 2201z: CCA IS MOVING INTO SLASHER ENGAGMENT AREA ATT. 2315Z: COP KHALER IS CURENTLY CONDUCTING STAND-2 ATT. 0110z:COP KHALER HAS BEEN REC EIVING INCREASED ICOM CHATTER. MAJORITY OF ICOM CHATTER IS IN NURISTANI AND UNABLE TO BE TRANSLATED. 0214z: AFGHAN COMMANDOS ARE CURRENTLY CLEARING HOUSES AND STRUCTURES TO THE NORTH AND SOUTH. MULTIPLE AK-47′S AND BLASTING CAPS HAVE BEEN FOUND FROM THE SEARCHES. IT APPEARS THE AAF USED A LARGE HOUSE TO STAGE FROM FOR THE ATTACK. 0226z:PRED CURENTLY HAS EYES ON 8XPAX MOVING IVO 42S XD 80070 82425. ~ 0350z: SUB-EFFORTS WILL BE USED FROM THIS POINT FORWARD.

There is more at the link.  Note that at 0100 Zulu time, CAS (Close Air Support) DUDE-27 (call sign) prepared to conduct a show of force within the valley.  DUDE-27 later attacked with GBU-31 (see 0215 hours Zulu), or in other words, a JDAM.  This show of force was conducted after COP Kahler had taken nine casualties, was receiving heavy incoming fire, and had stated that the AAF (Anti-Afghan Forces) were “very close” to the wire.

I find it simply remarkable that CAS was conducting a show of force with casualties being sustained.  It had been stated that AAF were maneuvering IVO (in the vicinity of) COP Kahler 32 minutes prior to the decision to conduct a show of force.  DUDE-27 didn’t deploy its JDAMS then.  DUDE-27 conducted a show of force.  Perhaps there is an explanation, and if so, I am willing to post it.  Until then, this is simply remarkable.  Just remarkable.  A show of force.

What Really Happened at Wanat?

BY Herschel Smith
3 years, 9 months ago

The Battle of Wanat has been in the news lately.  Richard Engel with MSNBC did an expose on Wanat, and still grieving father David Brostrom says a number of wise things concerning the battle, but veers eventually into the lack of soft efforts (building schools, interacting with the population, etc.).  In previous articles I have disagreed with this perspective, since it makes no sense to charge Chosen Company with lack of COIN efforts when they were in a deadly fight for their lives on an hour by hour basis for the entire deployment.  Besides, Major Jim Gant gives us a realistic perspective concerning these things.

This is nothing more than a side bar comment as I have not studied nor read the details of what occurred at Wanat.

However, at the same time we were conducting tribal engagement with the Mohmand tribe (2003), we were also conducting combat operations in the Pesch Valley and the Korangal Valley. The details of these missions are not important. However, we had two informal “meetings” with the tribal leaders in and around the area where Wanat is located. The first time we held a meeting they informed us they did not want us coming through their tribal area. I explained to them, in detail, that we had to move through that area in order to accomplish other missions. I emphasized that we did not want to fight their tribe. They told us that we were not welcome there and if we came through their again that we would have to fight. My answer was simple,”OK. Let’s finish lunch together and then we will fight.” That very day we were involved in a very large fight with them on our way out of the valley.

Several weeks later, the tribal elders came to our firebase and we had another “meeting.” The same topics were talked about. We enjoyed a very nice lunch together and the outcome was – we will continue to fight. We could not come to any type of agreement on how we could work this issue out.

So we continued to conduct combat operations to include raids in their tribal area.

But at least we understood each other.

One last note. The terrain there was by far the most difficult terrain I have ever fought in.

Sometimes, you just have to fight…

Once again, this isn’t a statement about Wanat per se, but the tribes who live in and around the area. They are a tough, fighting group of people.

The U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings has recently published an interesting analysis of the role of weapons in the battle of Wanat, entitled “What Really Happened at Wanat.”  Excerpts are give below (and the reader is left to visit the USNI web site for further study).

Immediately after the release of the Army’s Occasional Paper, press reports seized on Soldiers’ accounts of weapon stoppages detailed in it. The Times reported that “Soldiers who survived the battle described how their automatic weapons turned white hot and jammed from nonstop firing.” A November 2009 Defense News story also cited reports of weapon stoppages, but went further, attempting to connect the deaths of Soldiers in the battle to the enduring debate over the reliability and lethality of the military’s primary infantry weapon, the M4 carbine.

Since its introduction with U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, the M16 rifle and its offspring, including the M4, have been the subject of some controversy, especially related to reports of the weapons’ reliability in combat. Initial reports from Vietnam indicated a high incidence of stoppages. These were in fact directly related to the Army’s initial decision to alter the ammunition’s propellant from military specifications (mil-specs) and to dispense with chrome plating the M16′s chamber—an improvement that had become a standard feature of all U.S. military small arms since World War II.

Both decisions led to premature corrosion of the chamber and ultimately to stoppages. Upgrades, including those that improved the manufacturing process and design of the weapon’s buffer, bolt, trigger components, and chamber, which would receive a chrome lining, resulted in a much superior M16A1. Troops issued the M16A1 in 1969 and later rarely complained about their weapons. One Marine rifleman did complain in a 1967 letter to his family following the battle for Hills 881 and 861 above Khe Sanh: “We left with 72 men in our platoon and came back with 19. Believe it or not, you know what killed most of us? Our own rifles. Practically every one of our dead was found with his [M16] torn down next to him where he had been trying to fix it.”

Not mentioned in the letter was the fact that many of the Marines who fought at Khe Sanh had been issued their M16s only days before the action and probably were unfamiliar with them. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the M16 of four decades ago is not the same weapon as the M4 in service in Iraq and Afghanistan today. Enhancements made to the original design have substantially improved the weapon’s reliability, so much so that commanders often praise the M4. At the 2006 Infantry War Fighting Conference, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, commanding general, U.S. Army Infantry Center & School, called the M4 “one of many success stories in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Yet troops outnumbered at Wanat, like those described in the Khe Sanh account 41 years before, were still plagued by numerous weapon stoppages. Studies conducted by the Army, by independent research institutions, and by Colt itself offer some indication of the cause. In particular, they provide some possible explanations for the numerous stoppages suffered by Wanat’s defenders.

The Army’s draft Occasional Paper states that to maintain fire parity with their attackers, the Chosen Few Company soldiers “were firing their weapons ‘cyclic,’ on full automatic at the highest possible rates of fire.” For this reason, the paper concludes, some Soldiers experienced stoppages.

Staff Sergeant Erich Phillips, manning the 120-mm mortar, recalled that during the engagement his “M4 quit firing and would no longer charge when [he] tried to correct the malfunction.” An engineer specialist who loaded for Phillips recalled that, “Staff Sergeant Phillips poured out fire,” going “through three rifles using them until they jammed.” Specialist Chris McKaig, defending OP Topside, also experienced problems with his M4. “My weapon was overheating,” he recalled. “I had shot about 12 magazines by this point already and it had only been about a half hour or so into the fight. I couldn’t charge my weapon and put another round in because it was too hot, so I got mad and threw my weapon down.”

This same thread is pulled in the Douglas R. Cubbison study out of Leavenworth (I still won’t release or publish this paper since it has not been publicly released).  I find the issue of weapons reliability to be a compelling theme, but in the end, an incorrect one.  It isn’t surprising that an M4 that has fired 12 magazines within 30 minutes no longer functions properly.  Better, more reliable weapons could have been provided to the men of Chosen company (e.g., piston rather than direct gas impingement), and the outcome would still have been the same.

Most of the men who perished that fateful day did so attempting to defend or relieve OP Top Side (8 of the 9 who perished), and the kill ratio that day still favored the U.S. troops (“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).”).

It’s tempting to point the finger at weapons systems, just as it is tempting to fault the company with lack of soft COIN efforts.  But in the end, they were outnumbered about 6:1 (300+ to about 50), they were on a poor choice of terrain, they had poor logistics, they suffered lack of air and artillery support, and most importantly, they simply were never given the proper number of troops or the resources to engage in force protection, much less robust force projection.  They were under-resourced, and no analysis of weapons systems can change that fact.  Rather than focus on why the M4 jams after firing 360 rounds in 30 minutes, the real question is why this particular M4 had to be put through this kind of test to begin with?

Taking Back the Infantry Half-Kilometer

Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Wanat Video II

Wanat Video

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

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

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Wanat Officers Issued Career-Ending Reprimands

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 1 month ago

Regarding the Battle of Wanat that has received so much attention here at TCJ, it appears as if the field grade officers involved in the planning and decision-making for the outpost have been issued career-ending reprimands.

Myer, along with two of his superior officers who were not at the battle, have received career-ending letters of reprimand for failing to prepare adequate defenses in the days leading up to the attack.

Forty-nine Americans and 24 Afghan soldiers had been ordered to set up the outpost deep in enemy territory.

It was July of 2008, and according to Sgt. David Dzwick, they were short of not just troops, but basic necessities.

“The second day we were extremely low on water,” Dzwick said. “When you start running out of water it’s very hard to continue working through the heat of the day.

Despite warnings from villagers that an attack was imminent, an unmanned surveillance drone which had been watching over the troops was diverted to a higher priority mission.

“Not having surveillance was the concern for me,” Dzwick said. “Part of the planning is that we would have some.”

The first Apache helicopters got there an hour and five minutes after the Taliban opened fire. By then, Captain Myer was the only officer still alive.

Myer can still appeal but right now he has been both decorated and reprimanded for the same battle.

I am no fan of witch hunts, and in general I think such things are destructive of any organization which implements such tactics.   Furthermore, we must allow our military to be a learning institution, and if errors cannot be silently addressed, then intransigence will win the day.

Yet … the failures at Wanat are severe.  We have discussed them in detail: failure to believe local intelligence, lack of timeliness in setting up the Vehicle Patrol Base (almost one year of negotiating with the local elders to obtain their approval) allowing Taliban to plan, deploy and mass forces, lack of force protection, lack of logistics, awful terrain problems with the VPB and especially Observation Post Top Side, lack of adequate forces, and so on the list goes.

But why stop at Colonel?  The same kinds of expectations are still customary in other parts of Afghanistan.

BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan — The gunfire came as no surprise, several short volleys smacking the dirt as soldiers bounded across an open field.

The U.S., Italian and Afghan soldiers were keenly aware that by venturing just a few miles south of their base, they’d crossed into enemy territory. Taking fire was almost a given.

“They always shoot at me,” Staff Sgt. Jason Holland said in mock bemusement afterward. “I like this country, but they always shoot at me.”

Since November, the men of the 82nd Airborne’s 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment have fought pitched battles in Bala Murghab to take a small bubble of key terrain in this Taliban-controlled valley in Afghanistan’s remote west.

But the mission here is hamstrung by a shortage of forces. And except for these show-of-presence patrols, that security bubble is as far as they can go until Afghan reinforcements arrive.

Insurgents sit to their north and to their south, ready at the trigger.

For the men of Company B’s second platoon, it feels like being on the front lines of the wrong war.

“We are not doing anything right now,” said Sgt. Alfred Seddon, 24, from St. Petersburg, Fla. “All we hear is we want to push south but we don’t have enough people. So why not just stay where we are and accomplish something?”

“I was excited when I heard we were doing a COIN (counterinsurgency) mission,” he added. “I thought, ‘Yeah, great, we are gonna achieve something.’ But now it feels like a facade.”

Bala Murghab is not a priority under Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s strategy of focusing on main population centers to combat the insurgency. So unlike in the south, where a new surge of U.S. forces is pouring in, the 82nd Airborne soldiers here are stretched thin, manning this valley that they like to describe as a Taliban vacation spot with a small contingent of forces and just barely enough supplies …

“This is just no man’s land crawling with Taliban, and one small platoon sitting right in the middle of it,” said Hand.

“There’s a definite line,” said Holland. “The minute you cross it, they open fire.”

BALA_MURGHAB

While it appears that they have dealt with the terrain issues, they are ready-fodder for a massed assault.  So where does the accountability end up the chain of command, and how does this get balanced with the need to be a learning institution?  Expectations clearly continue to point in the direction of insufficient troops to meet the demands being placed on them.

Prior on the Battle of Wanat and Kamdesh:

Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

Kamdesh: The Importance of Terrain

Attack at Kamdesh, Nuristan

Wanat Video 2

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

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

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Second Guessing the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

There are still lessons to be learned from the Battles of Wanat and Kamdesh in the Kunar and Nuristan Provinces of Afghanistan, respectively.

Nuristan

The Executive Summary of the AR 15-6 Investigation into the complex attack at COP Keating has been released.  It begins:

On 3 October 2009, Soldiers of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry, repelled an enemy force of 300 Anti-Afghan Forces (AAF) fighters, preserving their combat outpost and killing approximately 150 of the enemy fighters. US forces sustained eight killed in action and 22 wounded, all but three of whom returned to duty after the attack. The Soldiers distinguished themselves with conspicuous gallantry, courage, and bravery under the heavy enemy fire that surrounded them.

Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, originally established as a base for a Provincial Reconstruction Team in 2006, was located deep in a bowl in Nuristan Province, surrounded by high ground, with limited overwatch protection from nearby Observation Post (OP) Fritsche. The mission for COP Keating during the rotation of B Troop was unclear to the Soldiers of B Troop who understood counterinsurgency doctrine and the need to engage with and protect the local population. But owing to limited manpower and tactical reach off of the compound, the mission devolved into one of base defense and by mid-2009 there was no tactical or strategic value to holding the ground occupied by COP Keating. As a result, the chain of command decided to close the remote outpost as soon as it could. (bold added)

But while this summary hints at population-centric procedures, COP Keating was intended to patrol and oversee a stretch of Pakistani border to interdict the flow of insurgents coming into Afghanistan.  By any account, being located on a transit route for insurgents brings legitimacy to the outpost.  A command decision was made, however, to close the COP due to lack of proper manpower.  This delay caused additional problems.

The delayed closing of COP Keating is important as it contributed to a mindset of imminent closure that served to impede improvements in force protection on the COP. There were inadequate measures taken by the chain of command, resulting in an attractive target for enemy fighters. Over time, and without raising undue concern within the US intelligence system, the enemy conducted numerous probing attacks, learning the tactics, techniques and procedures of B Troop, and pinpointing location of weapons systems and key infrastructure and material, such as generators and barracks.

Compounding the situation for the Soldiers on COP Keating, intelligence assessments became desensitized to enemy actions over several months. During the five months of B Troop’s deployment to COP Keating, the enemy launched approximately 47 attacks – three times the rate of attacks experienced by their predecessors. On several occasions intelligence reports in advance of an attack indicated there was a large enemy force that would strike, but the attack that followed generally consisted of a few number of fighters who used indirect and small arms fire for an engagement that averaged five to ten minutes in duration. Owing to this experience with the enemy in vicinity of COP Keating, the perception prevailed that reports of massing enemy forces were exaggerated and improbable.

Approximately eight months ago (and approximately four months before the attack on COP Keating at Kamdesh) I outlined in detail six different battles in Afghanistan where the Taliban has massed between 100 and 400 fighters, or close to half a Battalion size force.  There is absolutely no reason to have assumed that massing of enemy forces was improbable.  In fact, there is never again a reason to assume that in any engagement in Afghanistan.  As for the intelligence failures, John Brookins notes of previous testimony on Capital Hill about Kamdesh:

Gen. Burgess explained in testimony to the committee that the military had three intelligence reports on the issue, but that the reports were among many human-source reports that had not been verified by other means, such as electronic intelligence. As a result, the reporting was not deemed “actionable” intelligence, said defense officials familiar with the testimony.  We don’t trust our human intelligence people to make a call. We rely way too much on sigint more than anything. If it’s not in a signal some don’t think it’s real. It’s as if someone can’t lie over the radio or phone.

Recalling our analysis of the Wanat engagement, intelligence failed the 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company by ignoring the signs of an imminent attack by massed Taliban forces.  The Vehicle Patrol Base (COP) Kahler was located in low terrain, and worse still, the insufficient force protection at Observation Post Top Side took eight of the nine who perished that fateful night (including Soldiers who attempted relief of Top Side).  The video below (from approximately 1:00 to approximately 2:00) shows the terrain and natural features of the location at Wanat.

Military Historian Douglas R. Cubbison has written an extensive and smart study of the Wanat engagement, and provides some useful insight into the circumstances surrounding the battle.  But as smart as his study is, I diverged from his conclusions when he pointed towards the lack of nonkinetic engagement with the population as a significant contributor to the failure at Wanat.  Rather, I see this counsel being implemented at a different phase of the campaign for Eastern Afghanistan, with the problems being more directly related to combat tactics.  Marine officer and commenter Slab noted of my remarks concerning terrain:

The platoon in Wanat sacrificed control of the key terrain in the area in order to locate closer to the population. This was a significant risk, and I don’t see any indication that they attempted to sufficiently mitigate that risk. I can empathize a little bit – I was the first Marine on deck at Camp Blessing back when it was still Firebase Catamount, in late 2003. I took responsibility for the camp’s security from a platoon from the 10th Mountain Div, and established a perimeter defense around it. Looking back, I don’t think I adequately controlled the key terrain around the camp. The platoon that replaced me took some steps to correct that, and I think it played a significant role when they were attacked on March 22nd of 2004. COIN theorists love to say that the population is the key terrain, but I think Wanat shows that ignoring the existing natural terrain in favor of the population is a risky proposition, especially in Afghanistan.

COP Keating at Kamdesh suffered from the same sort of force protection and terrain problems.  The best video I have found of COP Keating has been removed, but another useful one can be seen below (the video is obviously being taken from Observation Post Fritsche.

This is an issue for all such Combat Outposts in this part of Afghanistan.

COP_Michigan

Combat Outpost Michigan, Kunar Province, Afghanistan

The full AR 15-6 apparently found that a series of command errors occurred at COP Keating.  There is a larger push to hold field grade officers accountable for these kinds of tactical errors.

The military does not release figures on disciplinary actions taken against field commanders. But officials familiar with recent investigations said letters of reprimand or other disciplinary action have been recommended for officers involved in three ambushes in which U.S. troops battled Taliban forces in remote villages in 2008 and 2009. Such administrative actions can scuttle chances for promotion and end a career if they are made part of an officer’s permanent personnel file.

The investigations are a departure for the U.S. military, which until recently has been reluctant to second-guess commanders whose decisions might have played a role in the deaths of soldiers in enemy action. Disciplinary action has been more common in cases in which U.S. troops have injured or killed civilians.

In response to the recent reprimands, some military officials have argued that casualties are inevitable in war and that a culture of excessive investigations could make officers risk-averse.

“This is a war where the other side is trying, too,” said one Army officer who commanded troops in Afghanistan and requested anonymity in order to speak freely.

As many as five battlefield commanders have received letters of reprimand in the past month or have been the subject of an investigation by a general who recommended disciplinary action. A sixth commander received a less-severe formal letter of admonishment. None of the investigations or letters of reprimand has been released publicly.

Regarding COP Keating, leaving Soldiers garrisoned at an ill-defended outpost that (contrary to claims, did serve a purpose) is intended to be abandoned is a huge error in judgment and points to inept logistics and planning.  Regarding COP Kahler, poor terrain, poor force protection, poor intelligence and a delay of almost 12 months (allowing the Taliban to do their own intelligence work and mass forces) again points to horrible errors in judgment.  But the idea of using smaller, less defended Combat Outposts to put Soldiers and Marines more in touch with the population comes from counterinsurgency doctrine, and it is here that the failure is occurring.

When a particular location has not been subjected to intensive kinetics to place the insurgents on the defensive and reduce their influence and power, it is naive to plan population-centric tactics and procedures.  We are attempting to employ the later phases of the campaign in earlier phases (contrary to the claims of the certainly still grieving David Brostrom, father of 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom).  Counterinsurgency is being practiced absent a conventional mindset, leading to poor force protection.  We can wish for the utmost in contact with the population.  But winning hearts and minds won’t work unless and until the insurgents’ control over their hearts and minds is challenged with kinetics.  The enemy is certainly telling us that when they can mass forces of nearly half a Battalion against platoon size U.S. forces.  The population has no reason to side with the U.S. when the Taliban are stronger.

Four important lessons can be learned from the deadly engagements at Wanat and Kamdesh.  First, terrain is of critical importance to far flung Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts in the rugged, mountainous regions of Afghanistan (or anywhere else there is undulating terrain).  Second, the Taliban have shown the propensity and capability to mass troops to near half a Battalion size force.  The proper force protection must be planned and implemented to prepare for such engagements.  Third, as a corollary to the second, FOBs and COPs must be properly manned with U.S. combat forces to accomplish the mission.  Thus far, U.S. command has demonstrated a predilection to underestimate proper manning of smaller outposts.  Fourth, our intelligence apparatus has shown a predilection to intransigence.  The response time and sensitivity of our intelligence must improve or more lives will be lost due to inept analysis.

Prior:

Systemic Defense Intelligence Failures

Taliban Tactics: Massing of Troops

Kamdesh: The Importance of Terrain

Attack at Kamdesh, Nuristan

Wanat Video 2

Wanat Video

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

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

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Back to Wanat

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

From Stars and Stripes, we are headed back to the Waigal Valley, Nuristan and Kunar Provinces.

The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment is heading back to the same region where it took part in the Army’s deadliest battle in Afghanistan.

While the rest of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team is heading to Logar and Wardak provinces for its upcoming deployment, the 2-503rd will be assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said Maj. Thomas Gilleran, 173rd public affairs officer.

The 4th Brigade Combat Team is serving in Kunar province, the same region where the 2-503rd served in 2007-2008.

During its 14-month tour, “The Rock,” as the unit is known, engaged in hundreds of contacts with enemy forces, including the battle of Wanat, in which hundreds of insurgents attacked a small, remote Army outpost. In the hours-long battle, nine 2-503rd soldiers were killed and more than two dozen were wounded.

The region is still volatile.

Since the beginning of October, 12 soldiers assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team have died, including eight who were killed Oct. 3 in Kamdesh district in an attack similar to the one at Wanat.

Kamdesh is in Nuristan province and northeast of Wanat. Kamdesh is one of a collection of isolated valleys near northeastern Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan where U.S. troops have faced fierce resistance in recent years. Military and outside analysts have described the insurgency in northeast Afghanistan as a hybrid of local, tribally based fighters loosely allied with the Taliban and other insurgent networks. The military initially ascribed the Kamdesh attack to tribal militias but later blamed the Taliban.

Battalion leaders confirmed the 2-503rd’s upcoming assignment.

The Captain’s Journal will follow this deployment.  Let’s hope that we have learned the many lessons of Wanat and Kamdesh – controlling the high ground, sufficient logistics, properly resourced and manned deployments, adequate force projection, taking the initiative concerning the population instead of waiting for their approval, adequate force protection, and so on.  This is a chance to prove that we have.

Prior: Battle of Wanat category, Kamdesh catetory

Wanat Video II

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 5 months ago

In Wanat Video we saw from the U.S. perspective what the Battle of Wanat looked like, especially from the air.  Courtesy of the NEFA Foundation, ABC News aired a video of the battle from the perspective of the Taliban.  Taliban commander Maulvi Mandibula claims to have orchestrated the attack, but there some significant propaganda in this video.  He claims that the locals “tipped off” the Taliban to the location of VPB Wanat.

This makes it sound like an ad hoc operation by the Taliban.  In reality, the U.S. had planned VPB Wanat for approximately one year and the Taliban began massing troops long before the fight.  As to the locals tipping off the Taliban, maybe.  Perhaps they did long before the attack, since it’s obvious that they began massing troops weeks and even months before the fight.

But locals also warned U.S. troops that a Taliban attack was imminent.  The Taliban listened to the locals – while we did not.  Finally, there is some inaccuracy in the ABC report.  The estimate of 150 Taliban fighters is low, and better estimates point to 200 – 250 fighters.  Take note of the specifics of the fight that can be gleaned from the video (poor choice of terrain, initiation of the fight in hours of darkness, etc.).  It isn’t often that one can get as much information on a single battle as we now have on Wanat.  The first video combined with this one, along with the written accounts, add much to our stable of knowledge on the conditions and choices leading up to that fateful morning.  The ABC News commentary accompanying the video adds little to nothing.

Prior:

Wanat Video

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

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

Investigating the Battle of Wanat

Analysis of the Battle of Wanat

Wanat Video

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

CBS News has come into possession of video taken before and after the Battle of Wanat that in my opinion adds a significant amount to our understanding of the physical circumstances and surrounding terrain of the outpost.  It also contains an interview with Sergeant David Dzwik and David Brostrom, Jonathan Brostrom’s father.

David Brostrom cogently questions the tactics (i.e., he questions the heavy kinetics as does the Cubbison report), but I seriously doubt whether he is correct in saying that “you just lost that village.”  Protecting the population meant heavy kinetics early on in the campaign for Anbar (and even later in 2007), and it certainly meant having more troops than they had at Wanat.

In fact, this sad story is a testimony to silly, religiously-held counterinsurgency doctrine and what it can mean to a campaign.  The notion that deploying a platoon of Soldiers amongst hundreds of Taliban will invite anything other than heavy kinetics is absurd.  It certainly won’t invite the confidence of the population.


Watch CBS News Videos Online

Prior: Battle of Wanat category


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