On July 13, 2008, Taliban fighters launched a major assault on a small U.S. Army outpost in Afghanistan, killing nine soldiers and wounding 27. This timeline from the Washington Post chronicles the battle from the perspective of a lieutenant killed in the fight, Jonathan Brostrom, and his father, who has sought answers to what went wrong. It was researched partly in collaboration with CBS News
In the final analysis, the Paratroopers of the 2d Platoon, Chosen Few had achieved a complete tactical victory at Wanat. None of the ACM objectives was achieved. The ACM assault was decisively repulsed, although the ACM had every possible advantage, and fought with fanatical commitment and determination, refusing to yield the battlefield for several hours even after American airpower came on station. The defenses at COP Kahler were established as completely as time and resources permitted, the defenders were alert and ready, and their tactical responses (particularly the extremely aggressive QRFs at Platoon level) were superlative. Although the ACM had the tactical initiative, in large part this was taken away from them by the Officer and NCO leadership of 2d Platoon, Chosen Few that vigorously and independently pushed all available forces to the schwerpunkt at COP Kahler- the fight for OP Topside. The American soldiers fought a tenacious defensive fight and eagerly transitioned to the counterattack, crushing an ACM attack that outnumbered them with odds somewhere between 2:1 and 4:1. The ACM suffered crushing casualties in the ensuing debacle, without corresponding tactical benefits. Wanat was a substantial, overwhelming American tactical victory.
Tragically, this victory had only been purchased with the considerable effusion of blood by the 2d Platoon of the Chosen Few. However, two days later American CJTF-101 leadership transformed this tactical victory into an operational and strategic defeat, negating three full campaign seasons of exhaustive labor and sacrifice performed by American soldiers (2006, 2007 and 2008) by abandoning an entire topographical valley to Taliban control.
Citizens, and particularly elders and family leaders in the Waigal Valley who had supported the coalition, were abandoned to their fates. The ACM leadership in the Waigal Valley had found the mechanism to effectively employ their relatively meager means against the American forces in a manner that negated the Americans’ far better equipped and trained soldiers by inflicting casualties upon the Americans sufficient to shatter the resolve of the American senior commanders to retain soldiers at a COP in Wanat, or to maintain COIN operations from there. On 15 July 2008 the American CJTF-101 leadership withdrew from the Waigal Valley, even though the paratroopers that fought for them had never fought more valiantly, and had never faltered in the face of immense adversity. A March 2009 military blog might well have been written about the Waigal Valley: “There are entire swaths of territory that have been ceded to the militants in Afghanistan. In some cases, entire districts are essentially ‘no-go’ areas, starved of development and even regular security resources….”2 And throughout 2008 and 2009, as one American officer fighting in the region remarked, “The Taliban and al-Qaeda are moving through Nuristan at will.”3 The increased combat and terrorist attacks in Kabul and the central Provinces of Wardak and Logar that are occurring throughout 2009 are in part being performed by insurgents that are transiting through the Waigal Valley.
From the combat action report, issued by the Staff of the US Army Combat Studies Institute
American casualties in the Battle of Wanat, although still relatively small in comparison to similar actions in American military history, were higher than public expectations in the modern age. Accordingly, the media and the public have sought an explanation for the losses. However, such explanations are not necessarily clear cut. War is not a science but an art. It is a series of actions and reactions by opposing sides both of which are operating in an environment of uncertainty. Historically, a professional military force has served the United States well and the US Soldiers and Marines who fought at Wanat on 13 July 2008 maintained, and indeed, strengthened this tradition.