Saturday, October 3, 2009


Came across this article about the battle of Wanat on the internet today. Wanat was a part of our area of operations while we were out there, but we never went there - no one goes up that far any more after what happened, although that it's true that we do have "a large base four miles away" like what you read in articles. I'll just say that four miles is a very long way when there's no paved road leading up there. The previous ETT had some members involved in the battle of Wanat, which resulted in nine US solders being killed. You don't read it in the main article but all the guys that were killed were manning an observation post outside the main compound. Lots of conflicting information out there on exactly what happened, but I've heard it said that the insurgents never breached the wire of the main compound, contrary to what you read in the article.

At any rate, after what happened in July 2008 at Wanat, the battalion that came out to replace the guys from the 173rd didn't have much interest in heading back up that way, and really had their hands full with the (smaller) area they had. The proximity to Pakistan and the difficulty of the terrain out in Kunar-Nuristan means that every valley turns into an insurgent haven if you go far enough up into it. You can pick as many fights as you want out there...just go further and further into a valley and the shooting is sure to start sooner or later. The guys from the 173rd, for all the mistakes they made leading up to what happened at Wanat, certainly were not afraid to get out and mix it up with the enemy. And frankly, you keep a unit over there in an extremely difficult and dangerous environment for 15 months and it's easy to see how mistakes happen at the end of the tour.

From what I've heard and read on Wanat and seen in similar areas, I think the lesson is if you poorly select your terrain, allowing yourself to be surrounded and people to approach within grenade range of you unseen by simply staying in a village, and are unable to build it up, then, yes, perhaps the Taliban can put together a very deadly attack using conventional assault tactics. The notion that "The battle stands as proof (the Taliban) can operate like a disciplined armed force using well-rehearsed small-unit tactics to challenge the American military for dominance on the conventional battlefield" as stated in the NYT article is gross hyperbole. If that statement were correct, we'd really be getting our asses handed to us over there. I say that not to disparage the capabilities of the insurgents we're fighting. Clearly, they are giving us all we can handle and absolutely know how to take advantage of an opportunity like the one we put in their lap like at Wanat, but they don't challenge us on the "conventional battlefield" in the absence of gross negligence.

The other notable thing to me in the article was the shooting of a US soldier by an ANA soldier after the US soldier went to check on them to see if they were sleeping. Seeing in the news a similar story recently, in a case where the Afghan police officer clearly deliberately killed those guys, one might be tempted to think that this type of thing happens all the time. I can say that I never once felt like my ANA would shoot me intentionally. All the same, I made sure to keep things amiable between us, as you do hear horror stories, not of ANA shooting their embeds, but perhaps not...putting in the effort to help them when they need it, shall we say. Given that the ANA had all the security at the base where I spent much of my time, I had extra incentive to keep things smooth between us. But I never in all that time really doubted them, and they never let me down.

In any case, that the US soldier would get shot checking on the ANA at night is absolutely no surprise to me, especially given how dangerous that area proved to be. The ANA can get jumpy out there. It takes courage to approach them at night, and best if you can warn them somehow that you're there. I always made sure to shine a light or make plenty of noise and talk loudly in broken Pashto if I were checking up on them. Sneaking up on them is not a good idea. It's easy to see how a shooting incident like that would poison relations between the two parties. ETTs are there to see that a working relationship is maintained between the regular US forces and ANA, but it's not always easy to make it happen. High time to solve the whole issue by separating them completely by giving the ANA their own battlespace and making them accountable for it.


David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/05/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

jjmcgr said...

just a clarification: the platoon sergeant shot by the Afghan guard at COP Bella was not shot by an ANA, but by a member of the ASG- Afghan Support Group, a local militia group . At the Ranch House, some f the ASG switched sides and the ASG commander at Bella was suspected of later fighting for the enemy at Wanat.

At Wanat the ANA platoon manned a TCP and part of the perimeter of the main position. The enemy did not seem to target them intentionally even though their positions were close to the village buildings from which the enemy was firing. The platoon was from the 1/3/2/201 which had its company and battalion HQS at Blessing 5 miles away.
Your commentary on Wanat matches my own opinion based on examining the records of the battle for my job. The chain of command did not expect a large attack because the enemy was very deliberate in previous attacks-- waiting until they scoped things out. However it appears the insurgents had massed a force to attack Bella and used it to attack Wanat instead when Bella was shut down. The enemy acted atypical for logical reasons, while the US troops displayed a lesser sense of urgency because of the usual pattern and because they were going home in a week. The fog of war strikes again. Feel free to contact me offline. I'd like to ask you about a few things.