"Brostrom's battalion commander, Lt. Col. William Ostlund, had concluded months before Kahler's death that keeping troops at the Bella outpost no longer made sense. Enemy fighters coming from Pakistan had long ago learned to maneuver around the base.
But Ostlund wasn't ready to give up the surrounding Waygal Valley, which was home to a largely illiterate and deeply religious population. The isolated valley offered an ideal haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "It was a population I really had a hard time understanding and did not respect," Ostlund said. "But I really did believe that they needed to be connected to the central government and that would be the first step to making them better people, less of a threat to themselves and Afghanistan." Washpost
Yesterday we had a couple more combat outposts shot up and assaulted in Nuristan with eight men killed. Nuristan is a part of Afghanistan that is wild even for Afghanistan and largely uncontrolled by other than its inhabitants. Nuristan was called "Kaffiristan" (land of the heathen) until the late 19th Century when the people there were forcibly converted to Islam. Now the "Nuristanis" are among the most fanatic and ignorant of all the border peoples of the Pakistan/Afghanistan region.
Last year in July a rifle platoon was badly hurt at a village called Wanat in Nuristan. According to the story in today's Washington Post, the incident has been much investigated and continues to be investigated.
The account of the planning and execution of the placement of the outpost at Wanat raises a number of key issues bearing on the army's conduct of the war in the mountain country of east Afghanistan.
– The Taliban (Nuristani) enemy's capabilities were badly underestimated by higher headquarters before the decision was made to place this outpost at Wanat. This happened even though another combat outpost at Bella a few miles away in the same valley system had been repeatedly attacked by forces which showed real planning ability and which displayed numbers superior to those of the Bella outpost. In spite of this, the same battalion decided to establish the small Wanat outpost with a 40 man platoon under a young officer who would be completely on his own out in this unfriendly place. In the event of the Wanat attack, the enemy numbered over 200 and opened their assault by attacks by fire from dominant terrain that eliminated much of the platoon's available local fire support. Either combat intelligence analysis failed badly or the command just ignored analysis that it did not want to hear.
– The Wanat outpost appears (from the Washpost drawing) to be badly situated. It was overlooked by higher ground and surrounded by buildings taller than anything that the platoon had to shelter within. The outpost appears to have been situated with priority given to the importance to locating it within the village so that there would be a maximum interaction with the local population rather than priority having been given to defense of the post. This is a very basic mistake that bespeaks a lack of focus on the need to survive in combat as opposed to devotion to a theory that demands maximum exposure to the local population. If counterinsurgency theory demands that kind of interaction, then the interaction must take place in a situation of enough physical security to enable the counterinsurgents to survive. That did not happen at Wanat.
– The battalion commander's remarks about his lack of respect for the Nuristanis is probably revealing. In the event they seem to have proven that they deserved a greater degree of respect as fighters than he had given them. This officer further remarked to the reporter that he had decided that the resistance of the Nuristanis to his battalion's efforts was a challenge to "his will" and that this was a factor in his decision to create the Wanat outpost. That is disturbing.
- Wanat was attacked 4 days after construction began. Under normal circumstances, and in my experience, such an outpost would have been sized larger, situated on defensible ground, provided with dependable fire support and built by engineer troops protected by a sizable security force before being handed over to this unfortunate young lieutenant and his 40 men. There are basic issues of competence involved in the planning and execution of the Wanat venture.
It will be interesting to learn if anything was learned at Wanat and applied to yesterday's action. pl