Enemy Performance at Wanat

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.

Over at Defense Tech we examined the impact of technology on the defense of Topside and Kahler and how the lack of patrolling might have contributed to the poor intel on enemy activity in the area.

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.”

  • Moondog

    We should not be suprised that the Afgans know how to plan and mount an attack. They have been constantly at war with invaders since the time of Alexandar the Great. If they did not have an invasion to fight off, they amused themselves fighting each other. A people that have been at war almost constantly for over 2000 years ought to be pretty good at it, at least on a local tactical level.

  • M.G Halvorsen

    Moondog, we made the same underestimation regarding another foe: the Vietnamese. Most of our leadership either didn’t know or chose to disregard the opposition in that little mess. The Vietnamese, for example, were occupied by China for 1000 years…and fought them for 998 of those years. The resistance to the French took another 80 or so years. We have this problem with insurgencies…and the lessons learned, as you can probably see…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1199079828 Juan Alvarenga

    I have to say, the scariest thing is the acknowledgment of the possibility that, had the insurgents done a single massive attack, the base could have been over run. That would have been a horrible punch to American morale. To this date, I don’t know of any American FOB over run by insurgents. I known of bases abandoned over time, then the insurgents just coming over and claiming it. But a complete take over during a firefight?

    • Tom

      It’s a reach, but maybe they were more interested in preserving themselves as a credible threat in the future, as opposed to actually winning a battle and losing the whole force.

  • Brian Lau

    From a quick 4 hour scanning of the report it looks like the main problems were deadzones of observation and fire from both the OP and COP which allowed the enemy to close to grenade tossing range, and improper fortification of the mortars which were were abandoned quick into the fight due to their vunerable location

    Interesting stuff

  • Lucas


    • Lucas

      Adding to the point…Why do we bother trying to prosecute PFC Manning if we are going to release critical information and reports anyways?

      • guest

        the participants already know what happened. Kinda like you don’t have to observe noise discipline after the firefight starts, they’ve pretty much got your position.

        • Taylor

          Yes that is true you can yell out after the firefight begins but do you yell hey attack our left flank it’s weak or hey we sent out an element to attack your rear. No you don’t sarcasm aside they may have known what happened but might not know what went wrong or how they could improve.

    • Jon

      Because the US has already made changes to their SOP so this type of attack doesn’t happen again, or the chance that the enemy learns from their own mistakes as well. Besides, the Taliban learned the same lessons, its no secret.

  • LCpl Ramirez

    I saw “Restrepo” and if that’s any indication of how the Army does PC-COIN in squad or platoon size situations, I have to conclude that they don’t get it.

    The Marines, if you ask a Sgt down to a LCpl or a fresh LT, will know the basics of COIN, they’d have read Galula, Mao’s and have read up on their area. The Marines get it. Why doesn’t the Army?

    • Jon

      And when my unit was in Iraq, they occasionally piggy backed with the Marines on convoys. That is up until whenever they would halt, get out, and start kicking trash around looking for IEDs.

      Restrepo was a 2 hour documentary, hardly enough time to cram in every operation on a 15 month deployment. Also, this is only one Army Infantry Company in one valley, hardly a fair representation of the US Army as a whole throughout Afghanistan. I didn’t agree with their CO from what I saw in the documentary either, but I wasn’t there, so I’m not one to judge. Besides, I can think of a hundred examples of Army guys doing it right, and others who just don’t get it. The same can be said of the Marines too, especially MarSoc, who statistically are far less successful than their Army SF counter parts (who have 60 years experience fighting insurgencies).

  • LCpl Ramirez

    If you check every combat arms, MarSoc and Civi Affairs Marines’ rucksack in Afghanistan, you’d find Herrington’s “Stalking the Vietcong”.

    And if you checked what the junior officers are reading in the Marines now in Afghanistan, you’d find Barfield’s
    “Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History”. It’s no wonder Command South is experiencing much greater success.

  • LCpl Ramirez

    Oh and before someone says, this was all about a firefight gone wrong, let me add that had these units simply done their information gathering, which means making friends and influencing the locals, maybe this firefight could have been forecasted and/or prevented. Which is the whole point of COIN, it’s not about getting holed up in your FOB and being assholes when on patrol. 90% is making friends and influencing people, the Army doesn’t seem to get this.

    • Jon

      Sounds to me like you’re just trying to justify why you joined the Corp instead of the Army. How do you know all of those Taliban fighters were locals? How do you know that the guys at Wanat weren’t making friends and influencing people? How do you know those guys were playing turtle in their FOB? Were you there? Is there a report on this? You can’t conclude any of this just because they got attacked by a well coordinated enemy. You’re making quite a bit of assumptions there . . .

      • LCpl Ramirez

        They were not, they came from the South, Pakistan and abroad. They left South Command because the Marines came.

        Because in all reports (official and media) they were A-holes w/ the locals, and as the report stated, the Army was caught w/ its pants down.

        Because all reports stated when they left for patrols, they did so half heartedly–turn overs were done the same. Did you not read the report on Wanat?

  • Army COIN

    Afghan Elder, “We’re concerned about Mohammed, who you have taken away and the cow you’ve killed.”

    Army Captain, “I don’t care about that, we are here to bring you progress!”

    Afghan Elder, “We don’t want your progress.”

    Army Captain, “I don’t freakin’ care!”

    • Jon

      You’ve managed to take that whole conversation out of context. As a matter of fact, those are quotes and mis quotes from two totally different conversations in the documentary. Congratulations, you must be a graduate of the Michael Moore School on How to Make a Documentary.

  • QRN

    The crux of the problem. ‘Progress’ + Us + We don’t Care + Not knowing = Them kicking our Ass

  • Sit Awareness

    “The major cause of American casualties sits squarely in the realm of situational awareness…This situational awareness is better described not as a failure but as one of the persistent risks in warfare that so far has not been eliminated by advanced military technology. The enemy reacted in a way the Americans did not expect… this miscalculation did contribute to the high number of casualties.” (p242)

  • ashley

    Disappointed with this.

  • Lance

    In my opinion there 2 lessions 1 tech Solders to shoot like Marines and know ABCs of shooting and no spray and prey they tech in Army BCT, 2. Make sure the taliban has nothing to use but crapy Hungarian and Chinese AK-47s to shoot since they suck at shooting in general.

    • Cmatt

      Your post fails for 4 reasons. 1. They ARE taught the basics of shooting during BCT, they shoot at pop up targets from 40 to 300 meters. 2. If you take notice in almost every firefight video, you do not see anybody shooting on full auto, they shoot aimed semi automatic shots. 3. If it were possible to restrict what the taliban uses, we would simply cut off their flow of weaponry completely. And 4. A “crappy” Hungarian or Chinese AK47 will kill you just as dead as any other Kalashnikov derivative. If our troops were in range to shoot at them, they were in range to shoot back.

  • 0311 Marine

    yup, big ARMY has no clue, except for its Specia/Civil Affairs teams, how to get the job done out there. they should all pack up, leave SOCOM there, and move back to Europe or CONUS.

    give the Marines RC South and East. and they’ll bring home the bacon, and then some.

  • Moondog

    Well these pages certainly show that the USMC, “we are the greatest” self admination society is alive and well.

  • Devil Dawg

    the only big reportable screw with the Marines was with MARSOC in Afghanistan a few years back, but that wasn’t really a screw up but can be attributed to a overly zealous Army senior officer who gave the Marines the finger with no cause. but these Marines are back in Afghanistan and kickin’ ass and takin’ names and makin’ friends and influencin’ people. with only 7 month cycles. there is a cultural difference, who coordinated the al-Anbar awakening? could the Army have orchestrated and exploited this opportunity? think.

  • 1st to Fight

    At the institutional level I believe without doubt the USMC is more tuned in, and always has been, to counter insurgency doctrine as it has been such a large part of USMC history. To its credit, the Army has had some bright stars, but its seems to be a hit and miss affair at the leadership level in the Army – which I assume is a product of its much larger size and less coherent branch and division training system.

    The other issue is deployment length – I know the arguments for and against long deployment times, but without doubt a longer deployment helps poor attitudes fester and grow, whereas shorter deployment times keeps the troops “fresher”. I believe the “festering” effect is far more detrimental than the benefits gained in situational awareness that longer deployments provide – which again gives the USMC an edge as they have generally much shorter deployments in theater.

  • Gabe

    In the USMC we watch ‘Restrepo’ as a lesson learned, and what not to do, when we go out there. As someone with only 1 yr in, I can tell you all the mistakes done. You don’t disrespect people just to disrespect them, and two the point of a patrol in counterinsurgency is to gather information to be able to prevent, interdict and investigate after the fact. It’s not just a long walk without purpose.

  • pt gawd

    every Marine I know that watches Restrepo cringes and shakes their heads.

  • Guest B

    Well, yeah, ” gung ho ” didn’t just randomly become a saying associated with the USMC. It’s because marines work together with the indigineous people.

  • Storm Chase

    When Marines returned from the P.I. at the close of the Spanish-American War, they brought home a new word to add to the lexicon — “boondocks”. It is derived from ‘bundok’ the Philippine word for mountain and decribes a place that is remote and inaccessible.

    Marines also tend to marry to more foreign women, expanding their cultural perspective, compared other branches. You can see this in any Marine base, with mixed children.

  • QRN

    Also where the word ‘boonies’ came from where Marines are most at home. For Marines luxuries are liabilities, technology is always suspect.

  • Zakaria Boutros

    “Investigators concluded that the enemy’s tactics were unexpectedly well planned and coordinated.”

    These mofos have been in a state of war since before Christ and we were surprised of this?

  • guest

    Absolutely, after action reports should always be classified to prevent exploitation of the info by
    enemy intelligence agencies.

  • steve

    My only question is this, why would any of our commanders allow any battle situations to even comes to the :”Blackhawk Down” nightmare? Do we continue to unrrate the terrorists? In closing, are our commanders going to battle with spit an polished boots, rather than dusty, dirty, mountain boots?

  • Schuyler

    I find the military often likes to pick-and-choose “lessons learned.”

    Lessons could be learned from the Rhodesian Army. No matter your politics on the matter, the Rhodesians had the finest COIN Army in the world, fighting, usually, with rifles deliberately converted to semi-automatic fire.

    The Rhodesian Grey’s Scouts, circa 1975-1980, had the highest kill-ratio of any military unit anywhere in the world in the entirety of twentieth-century warfare. And they rode horses.

    One Rhodesian Army cross-border OP resulted in 3,000 terrorist dead at the cost of only two Rhodesian lives.

    In the 1970’s, the US military looked at Rhodesian Camouflage and determined the pattern was superior to anything in the US inventory. Proposed adoption of the pattern was rejected simply because it was Rhodesian.

    There is some study of Rhodesian S&T in the United States military, but, unfortunately, their methods have not, nor will they likely be, introduced in the field.

    The only US nod to Rhodesian ideas? US military mine-resistant vehicles are based on those invented by the Rhodesians.

  • SFC Berge

    Oh Jeez, sometime American military veterans are denser than liberals

    lets look at a few statements at random

    Boondocks came from the Philippines, but it was the army that fought there in the Philipine war not the USMC
    120mm mortars are pretty much useless at close range except as FPF, so who cares if they were “knocked out”
    the TOW is an anti tank weapon system, pretty much useless against dismounted infantry, so again, who cares if it was knocked out
    the US has been fighting somebody somewhere since our birth as a nation, there is no Afghan gene that predisposes them towards better battle planning tactics
    Watch a slo mo hi speed camera video of an M16 versus an AK, the AK has no capacity for aimed fire, it is designed as a walking/marching fire weapons or spray and pray. The entire barrel flexes with each shot fired

    • Jaime Alvelo

      Excelent points amigo!

    • JJM

      SFC Berge, I hate to disagree with you but the 120-mm mortar played a key role in the close-in fight at the Ranch House in Nuristan in August 2007. The senior mortar sergeant there (who won a DSC then) also fought at Wanat (where he won a silver star). Rounds could have been place in the ravine near the OP (and the FO had planned to do so) greatly disrupting the assault on that position.
      The insurgents do not think the TOW was ineffective and called it the “finger of death.” It would have been highly effective against the bulk of the insurgents who were firing from buildings within the village of Wanat and out of various compounds on hillsides.
      You are right about the silly bclaim that the Afghans have a warrior gene. Despite the hype, they have actually lost most of their wars if we go back to Alexander and the reason the Nuristanis live in the desolate foothills of the Hindu Kush is because they got pushed there by invaders from all other sides who took over the superior lowland valley areas.

  • JJM

    I hate ridiculous responses that give the Marines superhuman attributes at the expense of the Army. Any OBJECTIVE comparison will show that the Marines are pretty much no better or worse than the Army except in PR. USMC casualty rates in the war on terrorism have been a bit higher proportionally and they had a tough time doing COIN in Anbar for a long time (remember the Marine report with the theme “Anbar is Lost” that was issued right before an Army unit got the capital city of that province, Ramadi, under control with the beginning of the Sons of Iraq program). i understand the perceived need for constant reminders of the value of the Marines as they are an inherently redundant service, but it gets old and ridiculous after a while, particularly when the comments don’t reflect reality. At Wanat one of the Marine advisors to the Afghans was a finance clerk, for goodness sakes. Something tells me the advisory effort isn’t taken that seriously in some quarters. I’m sure someone will proclaim the finance clerk to be better at COIN than all the infantry paratroopers because he once saw a copy of a book about the failed French war in Algeria.

  • JJM

    To me it defies logic to consider shorter tours (obviously because that’s what the “superior” USMC does) to be superior to longer ones in a COIN environment. Unless the shorter tour people are repeatedly sent to the exact same place (and they are not!), transition time and learning time is increased. The new guys are just figuring out what’s going on when they have to leave. “Fresh” units who are unfamiliar with the locals, the area and the enemy are more a liability than a unit that has been there 10-11 months.

  • JJM

    In my opinion the enemy at Wanat did intend to mass their forces and attack all at once but were forced to initiate their fires early because the TOW system was about to fire on a group of men on a hillside. Since the insurgents were using an oral signal as the sign to open fire, the TOw’s firing would have started the fight anyway and they wanted to get the first volley in with all its advances.
    The CSI report contains no classified info and provides the enemy, who is grealty delusional in any event– see their Wanat video–no information they did not already have, even if they’d deign to read works written by infidels, or works that aren’t the Koran.

  • Dennis

    Lessons Learned eh? How about not letting equipment turn over to preempt combat operations? How about lead from the front? How about holding accountable the Leadership chain that ordered a tired depleted platoon to a remote hostile place that was beyond rapid support range? I keep reading about situational awareness but a rifle platoon doesn’t develop situational awareness beyond small arms range. They didn’t have the required operational equipment, mines, wire, or personnel to establish and defend the post and we blame the dead platoon leader. While I agree that patrolling wasn’t done effectively, it is hard to work soldiers in the heat of the day and get them to be effective night patrollers. Coupled with the cowboy attitude of the brigade and the recent bad history of the company and that platoon in the area, this is a foreseeable outcome. Marines don’t do this any better but they are better about washing out field commanders that don’t cut it.

  • TopesideDZ

    You can pretty much discount anything most Marines say as propaganda. It was the U.S. Army that figured out a training method for COIN back in the 1950’s which resulted in the ODA. The Marines were dragged kicking and screaming into SOCOM in 2006 and they thought their RECON units could do the job that Army SF was doing. WRONG! Their own commanders called them a bunch of cowboys. After many failed attemps to develpe Special Operators, the MarSOC boys finally had to call in ex-Green Berets (see Marine Corps Times, Nov. 1st page 23) to help train them.

    Marines cannot operate in Afghanistan without major support from the U.S. Army, logistically and medically. Just like when they tried to take the city of fallujah (Iraq) and could not do it on the first try, they had to get help from American Soldiers before it was finally taken on the scond go-around.

    Leave the Marines to parades down 5th ave, and Toys for Tots commericals.

  • Taliban$uck

    I agree wit you wholeheartedly.

    However, what the bad guys are left to guess is how much we have learned rom our own mistakes.

    “Hey, Muktar!, Let’s approach with our platoon sized element up the ravine in front of the LRAS! We know from the Wanat report that nobody will see us up close!”

    *Buddsbuddabuddabuddabudda* (Muktar and his element turn into chunky, meaty, red swiss cheese as the interlocking Medium Machinegun position 200 meters away chews them into oblivion.)

    We win because we can learn faster than those dogmatic idiots.

    Besides, most of those A$$holes are illiterate, anyway.

  • ArmyGuy

    I get where you’re going, and that’s the Army theory, but after three 12+ month tours, I can tell you this:

    At about the 6 and 1/2 month mark, there is a twig in the minds of even the most patient and disciplined Soldiers that goes, “Snap!”. That twig represents the patience in dealing with the unique contrasts and local customs of an alien, third-world country. At that 6 and 1/2 to 7 month mark, it is difficult for an American’s “Give a F*%#” factor to not start to exponentially deteriorate. This is ESPECIALLY true in areas where the fighting is intense, and units get hit hard. There is a vengeful aspect to American culture, too, and it is EXTREMELY difficult to find importance in drinking chai with (and sandal licking) the elders, when the human tendency towards wrath gains a foothold and starts to grow.
    I am not keen on praising Marines for most things (though they are a necessary evil [joking, I assure you]), but the six month tour concept is the right thing.
    Yes- at 6 and 1/2 months, your SA may be higher than the Marine equivalent who has just rotated in 1/2 month ago, but that Marine’s freshness, motivation, and lack of complacency and anger makes him better off at the 1/2 month mark than an Army unit is at the 6 and 1/2 month mark.
    If it was a force limitation issue, I could understand, but it isn’t. The Army is wrong about 12 month tours.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000077586304 Jay Citizen

    Hummm! Funny! I always thought it was a colloquial for Daniel Boone’s woods, where Boone docks his canoe! HA! Learn something new everyday!

  • Kafka

    Yes, the participants know what happened, but that’s a very isolated group. I would imagine there are a lot of people out there who 1. don’t like us, 2. have internet access, and 3. have not spoken with anyone who fought at Wanat.

    That said, I wish our military were doing a better job of disseminating these lessons learned. Sucks being Active and learning about a U.S. Army report from Military.com (no offense to the host).

  • jjm

    are you disappointed because an objective analysis did not come up with the desired illogical conclusions that commanders far from the scene were responsible for allowing the enemy to maneuver very close to the position before firing a shot and then placing effective fire on it, while leaving the people on sight blameless? __actually it is not a matter of blame. decisions in war are usually based on best guesses as to enemy intentions. at wanat . there the enemy acted in an unusual, unexpected manner. i suspect it wass because the normal commander was wounded several days before in an Apache strike at Bella and his replacement acted more rashly (don’t forget the attack at wanat was repulsed and the insurgents had to have incurred a lot more casualties than the defenders).__i suspect, ashley, you did not actually read the manuscript.. read it and see if you are still actually disappointed. if you still are, you may not be objective, in which case does it really matter what is written?

  • jjm

    tired, depleted platoon? the platoon at wanat was no more or less “tired” than any other platoon in the 173d at the time. in fact the platoon may have been less tired than some because it had just spent several months garrisoning Camp Blessing, the largest, most luxurious post in the province, and acting as the battalion QRF. While the platoon wasn’t at full toe strength when it went to Wanat, this was because it had the equivalent of a squad reinforcing the garrison at COP Michigan at the head of the Korengal Valley, where a platoon from D Co, which was attached to C Co, was stationed. The only other platoon in C Co had been garrisoning Bella but then replaced the platoon that went to Wanat at Blessing.

  • 13 BANGER

    9 days left in country…i say again 9 days…. really? What a waste of life. They should not have even been there! they were packed up to go home. Dont let that BS report fool you this was someone’s personal objective… just to say” look what we done” now I can beef up my (OER) officer evaluation report. i knew these we provided support for them from Blessing .

  • Charlie G Sierra 3

    Lucas, my exact feelings. They should have titled
    this article, “How to better attack American positions”.

  • Charlie G

    We were sucked in by the Vifllagers and politics. Think about it. Our troops were initially in a defenable position, then moved in closer to Wanat Village, “WHY”. The private contractors did not deliver our troops their supplies to build defenses or drinking water for the troops. The village all of a sudden was vacant of women and children. They knew something was coming. The insurgents had the high ground and our troops were in a football field valley at the bottom. It was a set up. Vietnam all over again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wyatt.cleary Wyatt Cleary

    -continued- when You where not there. I think LCpl once you have done enough time in Combat and I dont mean sitting in a FOB you might see that threw whats taking place now and what has happened in the past for ALL branchs of Service tend to come full circle and History repeats its self. You can do all the reading and studing you want and remember the enemy is doing the same as you change TTP’s, so are they dont be quick to Say someone doesnt get it based on sum report or sum documentary Just Remember All our Fallen Brothers and Sisters in Combat and During the Cold War and We learn from there Mishappening to Prevent ANY Future Service Member from Injury or Death and try to not get tunnel vission or think one Service is better than another WE ALL WORK TOGEHTER AS ONE FORCE threw thick and thin.-Continued-

    • http://www.facebook.com/wyatt.cleary Wyatt Cleary

      -continued- I have had enough Army blood and Marine and Air Force and Seabee’s blood on my hands giving a life saving helping hand when needed under fire or ied you need to remember you can read all the books you want and reports and documentaries but when the po hits the fan the moment is as fluid as water changing from each mila-second to the next and I hope its not at that moment you have to find out how back it really can be and then have someone read a report or see a documentary and “ASSUME”-you now what that means- that one Branch of Service Does or Does not get IT.