As many of you know, the final report on the attack on OP Topside and COP Kahler in the village of Wanat, Afghanistan, has been released and the parsing of the detailed examination has begun.
Here at Kit Up! I thought it might be useful to bring to your attention the things the report says about enemy performance during the battle — both at the initiation of contact and the sustained 3+ hour fight that ensued.
We have already gone into the issues of M4 and SAW jamming during the fight. And the Army has clearly learned its lesson on this one with the incremental improvement program launched this year that will give the M4 full auto capability and a heavier barrel to handle it.
Those points were already made in a draft report of the battle leaked last year.
Investigators concluded that the enemy’s tactics were unexpectedly well planned and coordinated. The initial accuracy of fire and the clear tactics of knocking out the US TOW missile launcher and 120 mortar with a blistering crossfire of RPGs were straight from the rule books.
The preparations made by the insurgents at Wanat appear to have been thorough. Troops apparently assembled, received arms and ammunition, and marched to preparatory positions without any problems. In this, they were aided both by the illumination cycle and, critically, the American expectation that any overt action by the enemy would begin with probing attacks.
… Initial enemy fire was accurate enough to target effectively COP Kahler’s most powerful weapon systems. The TOW vehicle was destroyed by several RPG hits fired at short range. None actually hit the TOW system itself, which theoretically could have been removed from the vehicle and mounted on the ground until the ammunition caught fire. While insurgent fire neutralized the mortars, it also damaged the enemy position in the bazaar.
But interestingly, the insurgents fell victim to their usual habits of “spray and pray” shooting — maintaining a volume of fire but not an accurate one. Although the enemy fire’s intensity was high, its relative inaccuracy allowed the Americans to shift troops around the position and reinforce the OP several times. If the insurgents had not been firing from positions so close to the Americans, this advantage in volume would likely have been lost as well.
That’s something our good friend Chris Chivers looked into with a post on his At War blog back in April. Clearly the insurgents don’t have the time, commitment or wherewithal to become good marksmen. God forbid if they someday do.
Another point was that the bad guys tried to assault the US positions in waves, sending an initial force in with more manpower in reserve to keep the assault going. The investigation found this exposed them to US counterattack and that if the enemy had thrown everything they had all at once, they might have wiped out the both positions.
While the insurgents massed a relatively large force to attack Wanat, not all their forces appear to have been committed at the same time. Had they done so, the effect may have been decisive. Instead, the enemy was able to stay in the firefight for an extended period of time despite the likelihood of incurring significant casualties. This left some of their fresh troops exposed to American firepower when air support and reinforcements arrived.
The insurgents would have been better served to have used their entire force in one massive strike at the beginning of the action. As it was, the survivors were exposed to concentrated fires from Coalition CAS as they withdrew from the battle area.
I encourage you to read as much of the 270 page report as you can. There’s a lot of interesting information in there and some serious lessons learned. I will say that after reading the very detailed account of the fight, this event has the makings of a post-9/11 “Blackhawk Down.”