Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wanat Revised


The WaPo reports today on the Army's revision of the battle of Wanat (Army edits its history of the deadly battle of Wanat). Top officers were absolved of responsibility, foisting the failure off onto the Platoon level.

Gen. Campbell "concluded that the deaths were not the direct result of the officer's mistakes," but if not that, what did cause the deaths? Mistakes = death in combat.

The Army doctrinal formula is, "officers are responsible for everything that is done of fails to be done."

"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."

Understanding the political situation is not relevant; an Army plans for worst-case scenarios, and soldiers are not politicians. Uncertainty is not the same as poor mission planning. Uncertainties should be addressed in the assumptions section before the Operations Order is finalized.

Poor planning caused these deaths and the failure rests at Battalion and Brigade which were derelict in this action, not at Company or Platoon level. The Commanders may have misunderstood the hostility of the locals, implying Battalion and Brigade leaders were doing best-case estimates rather than worst-case, the more appropriate combat stance.

Did the Chain of Command lack Predator feeds and satellite photos of the position for use by higher headquarters? If the assets needed to fulfill this mission were not allocated, this cannot be the result of a Platoon leader's failure. Asset allocation is a Battalion Commander function.

The responsibility for placement of the Observation Post (OP) should not be placed upon a Lieutenant. This is why the Army has Company Commanders and higher. The fight is fixed in time and space and the facts are constant. What changes are institutional efforts to justify derelict Battalion, Brigade and Company command actions.

Wanat is important because it is a microcosm of the corrupt macrocosm, which is a corrupt phony war.


  1. Ranger, you fail to understand the deeper situation.

    Some people's *careers* were at stake!

  2. AEL,
    Let's put a stake thru their so called careers.

  3. What a fucking mess.

    The PL should have been able to figure out that the and his troops weren't there because of their winning personalities - it was a frigging war zone, c'mon! The tactical disposition of that platoon was a mess, and that WAS the LT's failure.

    BUT...there's no way that a platoon should be sent out on a mission without oversight from their higher. This guy's CO and his BN CDR should have taken the time to see what the unit was doing and corrected the faulty defense. This was a failure on all levels of command up to BN at least, and should have been treated as such.

    Like I said; what a fucking awful mess...

  4. Chief,
    My impression is that the Platoon was over committed and trying to do too many things. The plan was overly ambitious.
    I believe that this entire scenario is fraught with indicators of a LACK OF TRAINING. I don't think the PL had the training to operate independently, and this is not a criticism.
    Where is the NCO's expertise in this matter?
    The Plt. Sgt?
    These were all good , dedicated soldiers thrown out to the wolves. Where did doctrine ever say that we should throw units out in non-mutually supporting positions WITHOUT ANY HOPE OF A RAPID REINFORCEMENT.It's good soldiering if this is done as a honey/fly thing to attract forces that can be drawn into a fight. That's what the old A camps were to a large extent.

    Maybe bg will comment on the training that todays LT's receive in Officer Basic. I hope we can get some input from anyone on this matter. I know that in the old days IOBC just taught you enuf to be dangerous.
    There's a bottom line here- the soldiers are still dead , and they can't return regardless of who shot John.

  5. Your comparison to the old A camps is pretty apt, jim; I think that these little FOBs are sort of the same thing, only they rely on the hope that the bad guys are a lot less competent than the NVA/VC were and for the most part, they work because that's right. But every so often the muj throws out a competent commander as they did here and then things get ugly quick.

    I agree that the PL's platoon daddy should have done something; it wounds like the supposed LP/OP was a deathtrap - out of supporting distance from the rest of the position, and reachable only through a narrow, exposed path. The whole position was an invitation to get whacked, tho, being down in the low ground with covered and concealed terrain all around/above it.

    You're right about the bottom line. These guys are dead, and nothing can change that.

  6. I sent out a question or two to a buddy of mine who was in the AO when this went down, I was in AFG a few months afterwards and only heard bits and pieces about the efforts to support them after contact was made, but not much else. I can tell you, as the historical study states, ISR and air support where on scene as quick as was reasonably possible.

    jim, I can't speak that well informed about how LTs get trained today, I went through IOBC and Ranger school in 98-99. (and I haven't seen a real LT in about 3 years). But from what I understand, things haven't changed much. Ranger school is still focused on fighting Vietnam (which is a good thing for those going to Afg) with more of a MOUT, or urban operations, focus than when I went.

    Do they teach just enough to be dangerous? Without a doubt, it does fall back on the PSG and the Co Cdr, as it always has and always should.

    But before I go into any Monday Morning QB, I do want to make one positive comment: I am very encouraged that an engagement that resulted in "only" 9 deaths, receives congressional scrutiny and years of controversy. Compare this to RVN or any other war, where losing 9 soldiers in a battle was common place. Despite the fact that in this instance the leadership did not face significant consequences, it does send a strong signal that even the smallest failures can receive the highest level of scrutiny. How many times in RVN did you guys see an act of criminal negligence resulting in the loss of lives go unnoticed even to the Bn/Bde level? In this case, the scrutiny came from the top.

    But dead is dead, and failures at all levels of command occurred, IMO. MTF once I gather some more facts.

  7. I see several different important topics to discuss, and to do them justice, I will have to break them out as separate discussions, so I ask for your forgiveness in advance for the lengthy posts:

    1. Failure of leadership (tactical and mentorship)
    2. What was the goal of this history report and what it said
    3. problems I have with the WaPo article
    4. What I think the GO's were thinking


  8. Upon further review (and actually reading a good chunk of the AAR), I am going to reserve judgement on leadership failures for the following reasons.

    1. I had no idea, but one of my peers in my current Unit was the Bn S2, Ben Pry. He is currently deployed, but I can call him tomorrow to get his perspective on this whole thing. I will share of course.

    2. Having never known the details, my first instinct was just like you guys, blame the chain of command and leadership failures, but here are some facts that I feel are important.

    a. In Afg, the enemy TTP had always been an incremental approach towards attacks. Some recon, a probing attack, perhaps IDF or IEDs, but it always took time (weeks or months, never days). In this case, there was a total of 3-4 days in between emplacement of the COP and the attack. This attack was unprecedented, although it was considered the most dangerous ECOA, it was also considered the most unlikely to occur in the near future due to the low probability (just like the risk assessment of an airborne operation, hazard is high, but probability of the chute not opening is very low)

    b. The Co Cdr did inspect the site during construction and told the PL to move the OP. However, due to the logistics of the move and the unlikelihood of a coordinated enemy attack in a short time period, it seemed like a reasonable risk to delay movement a couple of days based on a valid assessment of the threat.

    c. Timing is everything. The attack happened at the worst of times for the Bn/Bde leadership. ISR assets were being retasked, Senior DoD officials were arriving in the AO that week, etc. The leadership was very distracted, and at the time, the Wanat valley was nothing but peaceful.

    But let me talk to my buddy and find out his perspective, MTF on the leadership.

  9. What was the goal of the 200+ page history report?

    1. Today the Army loves "teachable moments". This detailed AAR was not intended to caste judgement or "alter history", it was meant to be an objective account of what happened. It was not intended to "edit" history, as the article implies. It was a well resourced, unbiased account of what happens that does not pass judgment but does make criticisms.

    2. It was hard on the PL's decision to put the OP where it was. But it was fair criticism that was not intended to place blame or shift blame, but to serve as a learning point for future PLs who will undoubtably read this report as a case study for years to come.

    3. I am disappointed at how myopic the report is. Funny thing to say, since it was a short novel, but it was very narrowly focused. It starts off good, putting the reader into the geopolitical context of the situation, but it then skips from geopolitical to company level. It talks very briefly about Bn/Bde level decision making, but it fails to capture the complexity of the Bn or Bde level fight. It clearly depicts that the COP is a high risk operation, requiring GO approval, but it fails to put this into context for the entire Bde. How many COPs were here in the Bde? I would argue that if this was the only high risk operation going on, that would require a different level of leadership attention than if this was one of 20. We don't know, and this AAR missed it.

  10. The WaPo article:

    1. Biased. The entire article implies that the Army is rewriting a better version of history. It is biased by the view of the retired COL's whose son was the PL. It is a journalist trying to make a story. The journalist has a bias that the first reports are more accurate, and later reports are edited for political reasons.

    2. We all know that in war, the initial report is always wrong! As is usually the 2nd and 3rd report. My initial thoughts about what happened and who should be held accountable changed drastically as I read the final report. So I think it is very conceivable that GEN P, in his first understanding of the accounts, could write the Letters of Reprimand, and later another GO, after reading all the details, could tear up those letters. While I may or may not agree with the decision to do so, I do consider it reasonable that the GO simply made what he thought was a better informed decision.

    (note about my favorite GO, GEN P: The COP strategy was his. By blaming those below him, he could shift blame to the implementation of his strategy, avoiding criticism of the strategy itself)

    3. The journalist refuses to accept the fact that initial reports are usually wrong. He continues to make statements like "but the initial report said" The journalist wanted to imply that the initial report was right, and the later reports were edited versions to protect the Army. I think he is trying to place a conspiracy where one doesn't exist.

    As to what the GO's were thinking. I've given up on that one.

  11. Some other interesting nuggets as I continue to read the document:

    1. The attack occurred during Stand-to. The COP and OP observed Stand-To and were awake and alert when the attack began. Although it didn't help, at least they were doing the right thing tactically.

    2. Timing is a bitch, the morning of the attack, the Platoon (at the direction of his leadership) was planning a patrol to find a better location for the OP.

    I am still trying to find some specific act of negligence by any leadership, and haven't found it. Let me know if I am missing something, because the more I read, the more I am convinced that there was nothing more the leadership could have reasonably done besides not enter the valley in the first place.

  12. bg,
    thanks for your input.
    how long is present day iobc?
    how long was the Lt's at wanat?
    was he ranger qualified?
    i am not trying to atk the lT.,i'm just trying to get a sense of proportion here.
    did you read my art on this fight at RAW?
    i roger all that you transmit. i am trying to learn also, i'm not just an atk dog.

  13. bg,
    i still contend that this fight is where best case planning and pie in the sky meets murphies law.

  14. jim,

    I know you are just analyzing the event, as we all should be. Forgive me if I am coming off defensive, that isn't my intent. I am just trying to understand this complex event.

    current IOBC, I think it is still about 5 months long. But you have to count Ranger school and pre ranger, no LT will get a platoon in a light/Abn company without the tab. Not sure if this LT was tabbed, but I seriously doubt he got to Italy with out the tab, in my day he never would have even PCS'd there without (I saw LT's get their orders changed when then fell out of Ranger School).

    Also, note the LT was a 1LT, so not straight out of OBC. Also, this COP was a "company minus" of 45 guys, plus Marines and Afg forces. I have no doubt this LT was the top of the 3 PLs for his platoon to be chosen for this mission. I believe this LT and the whole battalion was in country for 14 months at this point. This whole event happened during a RIP (again, timing is a bitch).

    But you are exactly right in your last statement, in hindsight, the Co Cdr should have told the PL to abandon the OP until they found a more suitable one. In fact, that morning, they had intended to do just that. Everyone knew the MDECOA, the S2 briefed it, but it was just seemed so unlikely at the time.

    I go back to my analogy of doing risk management for an airborne operation. You know that someone can die, that a chute may not open, etc. But you do it all the time (this platoon was in month 14), and you know the probability is just so low that the residual risk is minimal. So you jump. Would we blame the Bde Cdr if someone is killed on a jump because the jumper went out on a red light and land in some wires? It was a very real possibility, we knew the wires were there.

    I talk a lot about combat arrogance. I don't feel that this was a case of combat arrogance, I believe that their assessment of the threat was realistic, and seemed valid based on the evidence at hand.

    Murphy is a bitch. I don't think you can hold Bde/Bn leadership responsible when the appropriate risk mitigation occurs, there is proper supervision and Murphy kicks your ass. I don't see any indications that the leadership failed to meet their obligations, but when I talk to my buddy who was the S2, I will get his inside perspective.

  15. jim,

    not sure if you are aware, National Geographic channel is playing a TV series right now called Restrepo, which is about the sister company of the battalion we are talking about.

    Just for perspective and context.


  16. jim,

    I spoke with my buddy who was the Bn S2 (for this company and the on in the Nat Geo special). His take:

    1. He was very happy that the LORs were torn up. He fully supported the Bn and Bde leadership. He is a straight shooter, and if things were messed up, he would say so (a very trusted source).

    2. He felt it was a witch hunt. He was questioned by a 2 and 3 Star about what happened, but they were looking for dirt, not the truth. A warrant was briefing the intel, and when my friend interrupted him to explain to the GO's that the intel picture was completely wrong, they listened politely and said, "Thank you for your perspective, Captain. Continue Chief."

    3. He said the "initial report" quoted in the press was leaked, and was not accurate. He hasn't read the final AAR, but he said he worked with the guy who wrote it and it was pretty fair.

  17. jim,

    for another perspective, here is what a buddy of mine wrote who was an Infantry Co Cdr in the same AO, who was able to benefit from the lessons learned. He had a different take on the whole thing.

    "I was in command at the time. My AO was the northern part of the Paktya province, centered in Jaji district. The AO included 40 or so kms of Pak border, with 2 permanent border crossing points, 1 of them being in the parrots beak. My firebase was small; only my troop (-);1 province south of COP Wanat, but the terrain and positioning of my COP was very, very similiar. The Wanat thing was my worst COA and I didn't sleep that much/well until our defenses were improved to at least to standard. When we did RIPTOA from the 82nd, they were not that motivated to improve the peremeter as the COP was newly constructed, or they were just ignorant to the proper standards. For the first 2-3 months, we were a pray rug away from being
    I had all the storyboards on Wanat and we talked them over and over with my troops and leaders. I agree with your sentiment that there was absolutely blame at the BN/BDE level. Wanat was in a very poor location and to me, violated several principles of patrolling. The surrounding terrain was too dominant for that COP to handle. The OP adjacent to the COP, where most of the casualties occurred, didn't seem mutually supporting or reinforced enough with too many of a platoon's high value item there, ie LRAS, ITAS, MK 19. It seemed to have a big signature. Enemy took that out first, thus taking the unit's surveillance, TOWs and mortars out (pretty sure that they had 120mm on the OP as well)
    The commanders at all those levels have the burden of the responsibility of what happend, i think. After this happened, the 172nd just pulled out of there, so what they hell was so important for that COP in the first place? It might be occupied now though, not sure. I asked, how they fuck can over 200 fighters muster and position to attack that COP and no one got a whiff of it... no listening, surveillance??? There were failiures, staff failures and who is responsible for the staffs....? commanders.
    After command, my BDE Cdr, pulled me to be his night btl cpt/chops. Our Bde had similar outposts with low manning rates, etc. but C6 was out there alot, nearly every day and he (and maybe more importantly the staff) was very attuned to the terrain, enemy, etc... Not saying the 172nd weren't either, but from unit to unit, whats the difference? Leadership....
    We never had 200 fighters position on a COP, but we several attempts. I think we deterred that by using effective rings of arty, use and outreach of CCA and fast movers. Taliban syndicate picked Wanat b/c it was vulnerable and accessible. Don't even get me talking about the local dynamic...."

  18. bg,
    Your Infy CPT thinks the same way that i do.
    I certainly appreciate your playing thru on this. I owe you a supper.
    My point beyond tactics is that we always discuss how , and ignore WHY.
    Why sacrifice anything for a position that doesn't mean fuck all , in a country that doesn't mean shit to anything?
    The 173rd fought similar fights in RVN. SSDD.

  19. jim,

    totally agree, the why question is important, as my buddy mentioned, if the unit didn't replace the COP, why was it important to be there in the first place?

    Another email I got from him after this mentioned that he went to this location after the attack, sort of a staff battlefield tour, and he said the response of most of those who actually saw the terrain was, "WTF?"

    So, to wrap it up. I think that if you only base your assessment on the 250 page report, you can see some reason why the leadership could be resolved of any administrative actions. But when you see what can't be put into words, you see the actual terrain, your perspective changes and you question more than the how, but the "why"? (which wasn't covered in the report, which as I said, bothered me).

  20. The hard drive is equipped with an impact sensor that 'parks' the hard drive heads in
    the event of a drop or sudden movement preventing physical damage.
    1: The game is similar with the TT Games' lego series, so when you meet problems, you can refer how the solutions work in those games. Then, place them in cute boxes or wrap them in colored tulle paper tied with thin ribbons.