Shem Bot and I rolled out to recon another tanker attack last Thursday. Atmospheric collection is continuous; to get a sense of the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where and why) we often do our own BDA (battle damage assessment.) I am most pleased to report that we do not believe the RPG mechanic had anything to do with this latest attack. Looks to be yet another fuel theft which is a booming business these days in Afghan.
I’m going to give you a story board on the fuel tankers while highlighting something that may be a nasty problem for the U.S. Army concerning battle of Wanat which occurred over a year ago in Nuristan Province.
Tomorrow’s Washington Post will contain an article titled “Army Brass Conduct Before Afghan Attack Is Questioned” by Greg Jaffe. Here is an extract from the article:
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an Army historian are raising serious questions about the performance of Army commanders prior to an assault that killed nine U.S. soldiers at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan last July.
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said he has asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct a formal examination of the Taliban assault and suggested that the Army may have mishandled an investigation of the incident. He also cited the flawed investigation into the death of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, a well-known football player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004.
“The manner in which the Army mishandled the aftermath of Pat Tillman’s tragic death raised serious questions about the integrity of some who held high positions in its leadership structure,” Webb, who saw intense combat as a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam, said in an e-mailed statement. “This incident raises similar questions. Its importance is not merely to provide lessons learned for future operations. It speaks directly about the Army’s ability to speak honestly to itself and to the American public.”
I have met Jim Webb and once saw him give a speech at the Naval Academy which antagonized a Clinton Defense Department official so badly I thought they were going to get into a fist fight right there on stage. He he is no shrinking violet and his interest in this matter is not a good sign for the Army.
Wanat was a minor disaster – the Army lost 9 killed and over 20 wounded out of a force of 42 soldiers and 3 Marines. The only thing which saved the day for these warriors was their own tenacious resistance. Tom Ricks has written extensively on the battle and even has a book out on it. I went back and looked at the intel reports we were receiving back then – primarily from the UN. Wanat is in Bargi Matal District which just fell to the gem smuggling branch of the Taliban last week. Here is a report on that district from the day before the battle for Wanat:
On 12 July, Nuristan Province, Bargi Matal District, unknown time, a group of AGE (approx 600 members) including foreigners has infiltrated into the area. The group is planning to take over the DAC and is currently engaged in an armed clash with the security forces in the area. The district authorities have requested the provincial government to send more reinforcement to help defend the DAC from the insurgents.
DAC stands for District Administrative Center which is the only area under government control in Bargi Matal.
One of the aspects in dispute from this battle is that the senior commanders were not paying attention to the situation in this remote province and sent too small a force on a mission which made little sense. These things happen in war – but it is always the cover up which causes problems and that is clearly what Senator Webb is focused on. One of the reasons the people in Bargi Matal were in no mood to host soldiers had to do with us killing all their doctors and nurses in one very stupid attack. Again I go back to UN reporting from a year ago:
The most notable incident during this reporting period was the killing of three INGO local staff members (along with approximately 13-18 other locals) and the wounding of a fourth by IMF on 4 July. The victims had been warned to evacuate the area by IMF ahead of an imminent operation and were in the process of departing the area when the incident occurred. The NGO staff was travelling in local transport when it was attacked by a helicopter. IMF claimed the victims were AOG, a claim that was subsequently proven incorrect. The security situation in Nuristan has deteriorated rapidly since Governor Nuristani’s removal from office due to his perceived ineffectiveness with dealing with AOG.
AOG = armed opposition groups and IMF = international military forces in UN reporting. This incident was a bad deal, no other way to describe it and the locals were in a state of high agitation about it too. Did you note the name of the Governor who had just been sacked by the Karzai government? Governor Nuristani who was obviously from Nuristan and, given the surname, a man of prominence. Want to bet the locals were steamed about that too? One has to wonder what the plan for Wanat was and why we would send troops there given the amount of bad juju happening in such a remote place. There are no American forces anywhere near this district today – it is now (and should always have been) a problem the Afghans have to deal with.
The Army apparently conducted a very weak investigation into this battle and then tried to put it sown the institutional rabbit hole by removing after action interviews from its Operational Leadership Interview series and issuing well deserved medals for bravery to surviving participants. It is not just ignoring the lessons from this unfortunate incident in question but how the Army fights the counterinsurgency battle. The senior Generals are defending their plan by claiming they were executing current COIN (counterinsurgency) doctrine. Yet it appears they were doing the exact opposite. The troops manning these small combat outposts have limited to no meaningful contact with the local people. They’re too busy defending themselves.
Inspirational senior battle leaders are hard to come by. Qualities which the services value in peace time commanders do not always translate well to combat command especially in counterinsurgency warfare. I do not believe Senator Webb is after the brigade commander directly responsible for the deployment of a under equipped platoon to Wanat last July. I think he has much bigger fish to fry. Maybe some good will come of all this, but that is not normally how these things turn out.