WASHINGTON - A U.S. military investigation into a battle last October in eastern Afghanistan that cost eight American soldiers their lives has concluded that the small outpost was worthless, the troops there didn't understand their mission, and intelligence and air support were tied up elsewhere in the province.
According to an unclassified executive summary of the report that was released to McClatchy and other news organizations Friday, "There were inadequate measures taken by the chain of command, resulting in an attractive target for enemy fighters."
A statement accompanying the summary said that the report, called an AR 15-6, suggests sanctions on higher-ranking officers and "also recommended administrative actions for some members of the chain of command to improve command oversight."
The investigation found that the soldiers of Bravo Troop, 3rd Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment from Fort Carson, Colo., "repelled an enemy force of 300 anti-Afghan forces (AAF) fighters, preserving their combat outpost and killing approximately 150 of the enemy fighters. U.S. forces sustained eight killed in action and 22 wounded, all but three of whom returned to duty after the attack. The soldiers distinguished themselves with conspicuous gallantry, courage and bravery under the heavy enemy fire that surrounded them."
The report also says, however, that Combat Outpost Keating was located "deep in a bowl in Nuristan province, surrounded by high ground," with limited protection from one observation post. By mid-2009, the report says, "there was no tactical or strategic value to holding the ground occupied by COP Keating," which had been established to support a provincial political and economic reconstruction effort that never materialized.
As a result, the report says, "the chain of command decided to close the remote outpost as soon as it could." The closure was delayed, however, when the manpower and equipment needed to shut the base - as well as aerial drones and other reconnaissance equipment - were diverted to support a military operation in Barg-e-Matal, a village elsewhere in Nuristan where U.S. forces held off surrounding insurgents for months.
"The delayed closing of COP Keating is important as it contributed to a mindset of imminent closure that served to impede improvements in force protection on the COP," the report says.
"Compounding the situation . . . intelligence assessments became desensitized to enemy actions over several months," the report says, as insurgents launched about 47 limited attacks on the outpost after appearing to mass for larger assaults. "Owing to this experience with the enemy in vicinity of COP Keating, the perception prevailed that reports of massing enemy forces were exaggerated and improbable," the report says.
At about 6 a.m. on Oct. 3, 2009, insurgents attacked the outpost and the outlying observation post in force from the surrounding high ground. The attackers were armed with detailed intelligence they'd collected on how the base operated and where its weapons, generator, barracks and other key elements were.
After Afghan National Army soldiers "failed to hold their position," insurgents seized the local Afghan National Police station, and enemy fighters penetrated the outpost's perimeter in three places and destroyed the base generator.
When U.S. Air Force jets and U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, which had been at least 45 minutes away, finally arrived, Bravo Troop's junior officers and noncommissioned officers regained the initiative and retook control of the outpost.
In the following days, the soldiers withdrew from the outpost, and on Oct. 6 U.S. forces destroyed what remained of it "to prevent enemy use," the report concludes.