Army blames Afghans for attack on GIs
November 5, 2008
An Army inquiry into the July attack that killed nine 173rd Airborne Brigade soldiers in Afghanistan has absolved U.S. commanders of fault and suggested that Afghan officials might have been in on the attack.
According to a report in The New York Times, the 44-page inquiry found that in the five days between establishing the outpost near Wanat and the attack, locals warned them militants were plotting an attack.
But the warnings were not detailed and troops did not expect the large, coordinated attack that took place, the report said.
Officials with the 173rd Airborne Brigade said Tuesday they were not aware of the report being completed until asked for comment by Stars and Stripes. Many soldiers and commanders from the unit, the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, have transferred out since returning from Afghanistan earlier this year.
Maj. Scott Himes, who was the battalion’s operations officer in Afghanistan, said Tuesday he’s not aware that anyone from the battalion or the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team has seen the finished report.
After reading the Times report, Himes said he was "not surprised" by where the blame was placed.
He said he was also glad to see the treatment the Times gave the story.
"I’m very happy the press got it right," Himes said in a phone interview from Vicenza.
Himes, who is now the executive officer for the brigade, said he was sent to the battlefield six hours after the attack by the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bill Ostlund. Ostlund is now stationed in Fort Benning, Ga., with the 75th Ranger Regiment. Former Command Sgt. Maj. Bradley Meyers is also with that unit.
Himes said he still thinks about the nine soldiers who lost their lives in the battle — and the dozens from the brigade who died elsewhere — but believes they all died doing what they were supposed to be doing.
"I take it hard, because it was a loss of great Americans who gave their lives for their country," he said.
According to the Times, the inquiry cited evidence that the district police chief had colluded with the Taliban, including a large number of weapons and ammunition in police barracks near Wanat.
"The stocks were more than the local 20-officer force would be likely to need, and many of the weapons were dirty and appeared to have been used recently," the Times reported. "The police officers were found dressed in ‘crisp, clean new uniforms,’" and acting "as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred."
The U.S. colonel who wrote the report recommended the Afghan police chief and district governor be removed from their positions and possibly arrested for their role. The Times quoted Afghan officials as saying the two men had been detained by the U.S. military, but released shortly afterward.
Military officials in Afghanistan did not respond to questions about the status of the two Afghan officials by press time on Tuesday night.
According to the Times, the report did criticize the "incredible amount of time" — 10 months — it took NATO officials to arrange the site of the outpost, giving militants "plenty of time to plan coordinated and complex attacks."
The report said the base and nearby observation post were manned by 48 U.S. and 24 Afghan troops. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 27 were injured, most in the first half-hour of the incident, officials said.
The incident was one of the worst single-day combat losses for the U.S. in Afghanistan since the war began in October 2001.