That can now be said. From the very first day when media outlets were erroneously reporting that a US base in Afghanistan had been over run, the narrative on this battle has been wrong. It was portrayed as the Taliban almost wiping out a poor band of brothers set adrift by their command. Well the time has come to change that story and change it 180 degrees. If Wanat had happened in WWII, it would be a tale of paratroopers doing what they have always done since the first time a grunt put his knees in the breeze, holding their ground against a vastly superior force.
When the 2nd of the 503rd, 173rd Airborne got to Afghanistan they landed right in the path of a newly resurgent Taliban. They had taken advantage of treaties the Pakistanis signed over the previous years with their own Taliban to rest, recruit, refit and begin re-infiltrating Afghanistan. This caused these paratroopers to experience a level of combat unseen since Vietnam, Korea or WWII. This one Battalion "The Rock", around 1000 men, averaged more than three troops in contact actions every day for fifteen months. In 2007/8 more than 20% of all the combat in Afghanistan was happening in their area of operations. They did as much hearts and minds work as they could, but when you have a flood of enemy coming at you, you fight. And that is what they did.
By the end of their fifteen months, they were preparing to turn over the area to a new unit. The command did not want the new unit to have to close a combat outpost (COP) that was unable to be supported and open a new one. They understood that this would expose a unit that had no familiarity with the terrain or the enemy to considerable danger. So they set about planning to open a new COP at Wanat.Virtually anything you may have read about the planning and conduct of this mission is inaccurate. An initial investigation into the battle found no real problems with the actions of the command structure. But there were scores of articles talking about a lack of planning and command failures that led to the deaths and injuries of the men who fought at Wanat.These led to a number of the families who lost loved ones there to demand an additional investigation, and they were completely justified. They enlisted the help of Sen. Jim Webb who put political pressure on the Pentagon and a new look was taken.
After that report was finished a decision was made to issue letters of reprimand to the Company Commander CPT Matt Myer, the Battalion Commander then LTC Bill Ostlund, and the Brigade Commander COL William Preysler. These officers were then given the opportunity to review the almost 4,000 pages of documents and appeal this decision. They all did so vigorously and the result was an overwhelming amount of information detailing the fact that they had performed their duties diligently and properly and that the blame for the losses that day lay with the Taliban attackers not the chain of command. Here is the final conclusion of Gen. Campbell made while rescinding and annulling the letters of reprimand.
The reputations and careers of these officers have properly been restored. The sad thing is that the families of the fallen have been led astray by the media and by the incomplete and inaccurate nature of the report that led to the letters of reprimand being given.
Gen. Campbell's statement is the right answer. The command didn't fail these men, and even more importantly the men didn't fail to hold their ground. Now we can help regain their right to be proud of their actions, to note that their friends died heroically and will join the pantheon of paratroopers who gave their all. They can stand tall and say that the Battle of Wanat was a victory. This can't bring back their comrades, but they all deserve recognition for a hard fought win. Airborne!
Here are some of the previous pieces we have written about this battle.
The Battle of Wanat- First Hand (radio w/ two guys who were there)