Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wazup at Wanat?

My default position when looking at the tactical is that one needs to be careful when you do after-action forensics. You need a detailed and exact timeline and must do your best not to use 20/20 hindsight to pound leaders on the ground who made decision based on adequate training (the best training in only adequate at best), marginal supplies (you never have all or enough supplies at the pointy end), and incomplete information (one never has perfect information) - and most of all - the leader on the ground only has a 24 hour day.

I pound Beltway types without mercy, but that is because they are not engaged in combat - they are just administrators. The combat leader though - you need to give him a wide lane to run in. To make "mistakes." To make the imperfect choice when all others are equally imperfect. Non-optimal decisions can be made, but only those of gross incompetence made with intent, malice or laziness should be used subject to punishment. Only having 3 of X instead of 4 of X is fine - not having X because you decided to go home early - that is different.

There is a lot of gnashing of teeth over the report by Wanat. There are family members of those killed, so you need to be conscious of that. The Army also has a recent history of fudging the truth and, unlike the Navy, has some trouble firing unit level commanders for poor performance.

In that environment - give this a read at WaPo and then come back.

If you have time, read the Army Combat Studies Institute report here or download the PDF.

In this case - I would give the Army the benefit of the doubt. War is messy. War in AFG exceptionally so, especially in 2008 where we had just started to understand that having NATO run the show was a mistake, war was not new, allies were not USA quality outside just a few nations, would never be there in quantity, and that we needed to change course in AFG if we wanted to create the right effects.

The battle took place in Regional Command East - the only place run by the USA at that time - though still under NATO and still in the under-resourced environment we were at that time, in the middle of a pivot taking the keys back from NATO and the theories that didn't play out.

We are still trying to get things right. On that note, I think the Army got this right - as right as a human institution can. The leaders on the ground did the right thing defending their name as well. After all - they were there.

This is war, not football. Lex and Jimbo have some good thoughts as well.

Hat tip LT B.


Dan McClinton said...

Everybody is all about learning from mistakes until it's your mistake people are learning from.  The father of the LT that was KIA states that he isn't about placing blame but wanting the Army to learn from mistakes.  Isn't it possible that his son made an honest mistake in the placement of the OP that may have lead to other things?

The examination of the events of a battle and determining things like the location of a fighting position was faulty is the whole point of AARs.

I agree that the Army is weak and its leadership tends to protect its own when incompetence is found. 

I would also say that having been in a unit that outsiders passed judgment on without knowing all the facts about certain incidents, that I would encourage people to at least read the report before running their suck about who should do what to whom.  It's the least you could do...I mean if you even care about being fair that is.

ewok40k said...

All this reminds me of battle of Isandhlawana... overall CO was being protected despite number of errors he comitted (bad protection of camp, splitting forces, not maintaining comminication with camp detachment) while camp commander (KIA) was blamed for entire defeat.

11B40 said...


My favorite Platoon Sergeant was fond of saying that, in the infantry, there are two basic plays.  Just as in basketball, in which he was similarly skilled, one can drive to the hoop or shoot the jumper, in the infantry, it's "Find 'em, fix 'em and finish 'em" and "Let them find you, fix 'em and finish 'em".  Both are scary business and, from what I've read about the battle at Wanat, there was plenty of scary business going around.  Sometimes, there are no perfect answers available and what succeeds boils down to who wants it more.  For me, the success was the amount of casualties inflicted on the Talibanis.  The disappointment was in the amount of casualties taken and the subsequent abandonment of the position.

The bottom line for me is that the construction and occupation of the US position at Wanat brought the cockroaches out into the light.  There seems to have been a fair amount of suspected collusion between the attackers and the local villagers.  If occupation of that position could provoke such a significant response from the Taliban, I would have recommend continued occupation to see just how badly the Taliban wanted us out.  Alternatively, the village should have been razed.  

Dan McClinton said...

The report at the link in the article states that there had been a series a actions that had been taken by that unit and units that had been in that valley perviously that had posioned the well so to speak and had caused the villagers to choose the Taliban over us.

I agree with you that what gets overlooked is the whooping those Soldiers put on the enemy.  It is truly unfortunate that 9 Paratroopers lost their lives, but that action was not a defeat by any means.

CPT Joe said...

A little more rubble, a lot less trouble. Bring back the B-1 bomber.

Dave Navarre said...

Grammatical correction:

"<span>There are family members of those killed, so you need to be conscience of that."</span>
<span>Should be </span>
<span>"There are family members of those killed, so you need to be conscious of that."</span>

Anonymous said...

Put it on my tab.  I'm only Southern.