Just before dawn last July 13, Taliban fighters attacked an outpost in eastern Afghanistan being established by U.S. Army soldiers and fought a short, sharp battle that left many American dead -- and many questions. But the U.S. military establishment, I've found after reviewing the Army investigation, dozens of statements given by soldiers to investigators, and interviews with knowledgeable sources, simply has not wanted to confront some bad mistakes on this obscure Afghan battlefield -- especially tragic because, as the interviews make clear, some of the doomed soldiers knew they were headed for potential disaster.War is tragic enough. Fighting and dying because of incompetence of superiors is even more tragic. Fighting and dying for bad policy is even worse. Vietnam was fought because of the 'domino theory' and the fact that no American president was willing to admit the truth that the South Vietnamese were less loyal to puppet US regimes than they were to North Vietnam's Communist leaders. Iraq was fought under false pretenses of "weapons of mass destruction". Afghanistan was started for the right reason -- strike back at attackers -- but was orphaned for the idiotic war in Iraq. Obama promised to bring the idiocy to an end, but he is sounding more and more like "I've got a secret peace plan" Nixon to me every day since he is sending more troops in rather than pulling them out.
Indeed, one way to honor them would be to look at what might have been done better to help them. But the Army seems positively determined not to study the Wanat incident. A few weeks ago, two interviews about the battle were posted on Fort Leavenworth's very good series of Operational Leadership Interviews -- but then were removed.
Screwups are inevitable in war. But there are serious questions to be addressed here -- and I hope to do so over the next few days on this blog, drawing on the investigation itself and other sources who have raised concerns with me about the painful, and so far unlearned, lessons of the battle. As one Army source put it to me, "The paratroopers sent to Wanat knew they were in big trouble. Although the battalion HQ was only 7km away, these guys lacked class 4 [construction and fortification materials], ran out of water and had little material to build up their defensive positions." Indeed, some of the statements made by those who fought raise the question of whether their concerns are being heard by their superiors.
Taking corrective steps is, of course, what the chain of command should be doing, but doesn't appear to have done. "I would not characterize this as anything more than the standard fighting that happens in this area in good weather that the summer provides," Col. Charles Preysler, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, told Stars & Stripes about a week after the battle. In other words, nothing to see here, move on.
From a Canadian perspective, the tragedy is that our government is pressured to "go along" with US wishes even when it is obvious that the US is making bad mistakes. We don't have leaders here with the guts to go toe-to-toe with the Americans and tell them to "go jump in a lake".