Report details attack on GIs in Afghanistan
November 9, 2008
The Army’s official report on the July battle in Afghanistan that killed nine paratroops and wounded 27 others is filled with details of heroism, desperation and a calculated risk gone wrong.
But for at least one parent of a 173rd Airborne Brigade soldier killed in the battle near Wanat on July 13, not all of the questions have been answered.
"The report is fairly accurate, but for me it’s fairly incomplete," David Brostrom, the father of 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, said in an interview last week from his home in Hawaii.
Brostrom retired as a colonel after 30 years in the Army. He has read the Army’s report and has been personally briefed by Col. Charles Preysler — the commander of his son’s brigade in Afghanistan, and a man David Brostrom once commanded.
As a military man, Brostrom said, he perhaps knows more about what to look for than the other grieving families do.
And Brostrom said he has, through a Hawaii senator, filed a Congressional inquiry about the battle focusing on 26 questions, mainly involving the level of support his son’s platoon and other troops in theater received, such as intelligence and air support.
"Very few [of those questions] were answered in the 15-6," he said, using the military’s term for an investigation.
Preysler is now commander of the U.S. Army training center in Grafenwöhr, Germany, that prepares troops for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Though the report concludes that no blame should be assessed to U.S. commanders, Preysler said last week that "any time you take casualties, you think it through very hard about how you could have done anything differently. I think every commander who loses troops will do that."
Wanat is the center of local government and at the end of a road — in the Afghan sense — that snakes up some five miles from Camp Blessing in mountainous terrain. U.S. troops had only been at the Wanat patrol base for four days when they were attacked by an enemy force the report puts at 200.
The troops, mostly from Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, were to hold the area until a combat outpost could be built.
"It was a move that made sense given the tactical situation as we knew it back then," Preysler said.
The troops knew, Preysler said, they likely would be "tested just like they have at every single [forward operating base] we’ve ever put up."
By the end of the fight, 36 of the 48 U.S. personnel originally at Wanat were wounded or killed.
But, Preysler said, "No one’s talked about the bravery and persistence those soldiers made in defending that position. I can’t say enough about that."
The 44-page report lays out those efforts in the spare, direct staccato of the infantry colonel who wrote the report, but whose name has been redacted from the version publicly released.
It begins with the decision to close down an "extremely vulnerable" combat outpost nearby and relocate to Wanat, a move discussed by the brigade for more than a year.
Ten months of coordination with Afghan officials about the land allowed militants to plan an attack "that only required refinement once the land was occupied."
On July 9, in the early morning darkness, the U.S. troops and 24 Afghan paratroops established the vehicle patrol base.
Each day, locals warned the U.S. troops of an impending attack.
"There was intelligence an attack would occur," the report found, "but this was to be expected for the Waygal District."
Troops expected a "probing attack" of around 20 militants. Instead, at around 4:20 a.m., the force of 200 enemy launched a complex, well-organized attack that first targeted the troops’ heavy weapons.
The narrative describes a pitched battle in which troops fought militants firing from a mosque, an adjacent bazaar, up in trees and within 15 meters of U.S. positions.
Four of the nine soldiers at an observation post were killed within the first 20 minutes of fighting. Claymore mines and hand grenades were used liberally. Close-air support was called in, and nearly 100 artillery rounds were fired from Camp Blessing. An hour and 35 minutes into the fight, the first medical evacuation helicopters arrived; an hour and 48 minutes into the fight, the first reinforcements arrived.
In the interim, troops had mounted four brave runs at reinforcing the observation post. It was during the first of those attempts that Jonathan Brostrom was killed with two of his men.
The report says that between 21 and 52 militants were killed in the attack, and estimates an additional 45 were wounded. Only two bodies were recovered after the fight.
The report also states that "there is most likely an enemy video of this fight" that militants will release to discredit coalition governments, "especially in a presidential election year."
Thus far, no traces of such a video have been publicly identified.
In the end, the report concludes that the decision to build and occupy the patrol base at Wanat was the correct one, despite the outcome.
"Commanders should not become risk averse about following counterinsurgency doctrine and remain in their FOBs as a result of the unfortunate loss of nine paratroopers," the report reads. "The risk of casualties is inherent in counterinsurgency operations. Commanders must focus on mitigating the risks rather than not taking the risks by allowing the fear of casualties to paralyze efforts to connect with the people and separate the insurgents from the populace."
On the morning of July 15, "the order was given to relocate the forces from Wanat to other locations."
While the report said the Afghan district police chief and district governor were "complicit" in the attack and recommended they be removed — if not arrested — U.S. officials have since softened that conclusion.
The 173rd Airborne lost 43 soldiers during its roughly 15 months in Afghanistan.
The 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry had more than 1,000 engagements in that time and its soldiers have earned a Distinguished Service Cross, 10 Silver Stars and dozens of other valor awards to date.
The report ...(PDF format)
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