Any story where 9 American soldiers die is tragic by definition. But tragedy does not automatically impart blame and it certainly does not inhibit heroism. The Battle of Wanat deserves to go down in the annals of the airborne as an example of brave paratroopers repelling an attack from the high ground by an enemy with vastly superior numbers. The fighting spirit and esprit de corps of the Punishers of 2nd Plt, C Co, 2nd of the 503rd carried the day and in the end they held their ground.That would have been a victory in any other war and we should make sure it is remembered as one in this war.
When the battle was initially reported and every step of the way since inaccurate information has been used to characterize the situation. The narrative became one of command failure in planning and supporting the opening of a new base. This led the families of some of the fallen to request an additional investigation which was initiated. At the same time a contract historian at Leavenworth named Cubbison had been working on a historic record of the battle and released a draft of his work to some colleagues. It was eventually released to the families and the public and it read like an indictment of the command structure of the entire Brigade. It was a nakedly, transparent attack on the judgment and professionalism of the officers involved with planning and executing the operation to build the new patrol base. Leavenworth has since done extensive editing to the draft to turn if from an attack into a legitimate record which is available here.
When the military investigation was finished it placed blame on the Brigade, Battalion and Company Commanders and they were told they would receive Letters of Reprimand. This was more ironic due to the Company Commander already having received a Silver Star for his actions during the battle. All three officers decided to appeal these letters and took the opportunity to present the officers conducting the appeal review with huge amounts of historical records and statements from parties who had not previously been heard. This additional information was overwhelming in destroying the notion that this mission was poorly planned or supplied. It showed considerable care and proper judgment was taken in balancing the mission and the men and materials available.
I have met with more than a dozen of the enlisted men and officers who were involved with this operation. Thanks to the Tanker Babe I was in the room when the wounded from Wanat who were evacuated from the battlefield were reunited with their buddies for the first time. Their first hand accounts were about as unvarnished as any that could be told and the majority opinion was that of course things could have been better, but that they were paratroopers and their job is to hold ground with whatever they have. They did, and when asked if they considered Wanat a victory, they said "Hell yeah!".
The Washington Post has a story out now about how the Army edited the story of Wanat. It points toward the idea that this final report is simply a whitewash exonerating the senior leaders and placing blame on the junior leaders who were on site. That is simply not a fair assessment of the report. In the end the report ends up paining a picture of dedicated professionals doing the best possible in extremely challenging conditions. In the initial report leading to the reprimands, the placement of the observation post was not considered a major factor in how the battle unfolded. In the final report it was considered. This has led to a claim that the Arny is trying to hang the blame on LT Brostrom, the Platoon Leader, whose decision it was on where to place the OP. The report also notes that a number of the other combat leaders in the platoon grudgingly agreed that of the bad choices, he chose the least bad. LT Brostrom died reinforcing the men at that OP and deserves only our respect for his bravery.
I have read most of the hundreds and hundreds of pages of documentation of this Battle. I have also had the privilege to speak with many of those who fought it. Wanat was no failure, it was an example of the heavy price of war. But those who paid that price and their brothers in arms who fought along side of them deserve to know that their deeds will be remembered and that the hard fought victory at the Battle of Wanat will be told for generations to come.
Here is a podcast interview with Mike Denton & Ryan Pitts who fought there talking publicly about the battle for the first time.