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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    U.S. command errors preceded Taliban attack on Afghan outpost

     KABUL — A series of command errors set the stage for a Taliban attack on a remote American outpost four months ago, which left eight U.S. soldiers dead in one of the war’s most lethal ground assaults, according to a military report released Friday.

    The American military’s investigation into the Oct. 3 onslaught at a small installation known as Combat Outpost Keating, in eastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, praised soldiers and their junior officers for “”heroically”” repelling an attack by an insurgent force five times their size.

    But the report called for sanctions against at least two higher-up commanders, according to officials familiar with its contents. Only the report’s executive summary was made public.

    The probe concluded that necessary measures needed to protect the soon-to-be-abandoned outpost were not taken, leaving it vulnerable to attack. It cited key lapses in surveillance, and said intelligence gatherers had become “”desensitized”” to reports of insurgents massing in preparation for an attack.

    At the time of the onslaught, the outpost, set amid rugged terrain near the Pakistani frontier, was already slated for closing. The military had concluded it did not serve any purpose in halting cross-border infiltration by insurgents, who merely made slight alterations in their route to avoid it.

    The planned shutdown was in line with orders by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who had taken over in midsummer as commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, to pull troops out of isolated areas and divert resources instead to protecting population centers.

    However, the uprooting of Combat Outpost Keating was delayed for several months by logistical problems. In the meantime, word that the base was soon to be abandoned spread among villagers in Kamdesh district — and insurgents operating in the area. That rendered it an “”attractive target for enemy fighters,”” the military report said.

    About 300 attackers, who struck before dawn, nearly managed to overrun the outpost, which was defended by just 60 troops. After hours of chaotic fighting, the insurgents were finally driven off by airstrikes. About 150 of the attackers were killed, the military said.

    The incident was eerily similar to an attack on another outpost in eastern Afghanistan in 2008. That confrontation, which came to be known as the Battle of Wanat, killed nine American soldiers and triggered two major investigations. It is now considered a textbook example of command misjudgments in assessing the threat to a small outpost.

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    (c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

    Visit the Los Angeles Times on the Internet at http://www.latimes.com/

    Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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