Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Medal of Honor: SSG Clinton Romesha, COP Keating, and the Battle of Kamdesh (Update: Swenson, Peralta) (Update: Citation)

The White House has announced that former Staff Sergeant Clinton L Romesha, US Army, has been awarded the Medal of Honor and will receive the decoration at a ceremony at the White House on 11 February 2013.  He will become the eleventh recipient of the award during the campaigns fought in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror, and only the fourth such living recipient.

1LT Bundermann, SSG Romesha, SGT Larson, at ease (from NDNG)

SSG Romesha (rōm' ə shā) is receiving the award for actions during the controversial Battle of Kamdesh at Combat Outpost (COP) Keating in Afghanistan, which took place on 3 October 2009.  At the time he was a section leader in a 53-man detachment of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry as part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.  This small outpost had an additional detachment (at least, at the beginning) of some 30 Afghan National Army (ANA) with their two Latvian Army advisors, Sergeant First Class Janis Lakins and Corporal Martins Dabolins.  This small outpost, including a smaller observation post, was attacked by almost 400 enemy Anti-Afghan Forces (AAF) in an effort to wipe it out, and they almost succeeded. 

COP Keating, along with its OP Fritsche, was situated in a valley in the Kamdesh district of the heavily mountainous province of Nuristan in the Hindu Kush, along a small river and collocated with the village of Urmul, about 14 miles from the border with Pakistan.  The valley marks part of the natural corridor that links the insurgents in the sanctuary of the outlaw territory of Pakistan with the lower elevations around Jalalabad and Kabul to the southwest.  Little artillery support was available (though the COP and OP each had mortars in place), hampered by the high ground surrounding the COP, and helicopter support was from Jalalabad, about a 30 minute flight away.

Footage of a firefight at COP Keating from a previous deployment, seen from OP Fritsche

As for the situation of the outpost, what immediately strikes anyone with even a passing military experience is that the COP was at the bottom of a steep valley among some sharply elevated terrain surrounding it.  Observation Post (OP) Fritsche was established to the immediate south to provide some partial overwatch, and was some 2.2 kilometers away and 2144 feet higher in elevation.  It was not in a line of sight from the outpost in the valley, and was connected by a small trail through heavy forest, with many switchbacks.  COP Keating and OP Fritsche were established and maintained along this Taliban line of communication, despite its obvious vulnerability, due to the idea that a shift to a more counter-insurgent (COIN) strategy should put the troops into close contact with Afghan villagers.  (For some reason, I couldn't post a short video of a panorama of the imposing terrain around Keating, but it can be found here.)

A factor which plays into this is the question of the Afghan surge that was starting to unfold during this period.  During the close of the Bush administration, the successful Iraqi surge was being considered as a lesson learned for application to Afghanistan.  (We essentially won the second phase of the Iraq War by the summer of 2008, even if the MSM refused to acknowledge it.)   Afghanistan had been considered an 'economy of force' operation during our dedication to the Iraq theatre and its need for the majority of American troops, and during that time the AAF, consisting of native Taliban, foreign al Qaeda, and mixtures of tribal, terrorist, and criminal elements (like the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin [HiG], the Islamic Army of the warlord Hekmatyar Gulbuddin, or the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] 'Righteous Army' operating primarily out of the Pakistani territory of Kashmir just across the border) began to slowly filter in and ramp up operations there.  The transition of administrations from Bush to Obama delayed the process of turning our attention to the new threat in Afghanistan, and the drawn-out dithering of Obama on the matter delayed it still further, presumably for the optics of showing how painfully careful Obama was with such a momentous decision, conferring over and over with a huge host of supposed experts, all of whom had to acclimate themselves to their new offices as well.  In January 2009, an initial request of some 30,000 troops by General David McKiernan was cut by Obama to 17,000. 

A later request to amp up our troop presence still further was more widely reported, primarily for the extended time that it took to come to a conclusion.  The conventional memory holds that General Stanley McChrystal (who succeeded McKiernan in May) and his staff, among other Pentagon echelons, recommended a surge of some 40,000 troops, but by the time that Obama finally made his pronouncement later in December, he had cut it to 30,000 troops, without ever giving a cogent reason for the sharp decrease – again.  (His statement also included the inexplicable announcement that he would withdraw the troops within eighteen months, allowing the Taliban to simply run out the clock and step back in.)  What is generally unreported is that the recommendation from the military was for 40,000 to 60,000 troops, with the 40,000 mark as the lowest possible number of troops that could conceivably achieve the plan.  The result from the Obama administration was that the American contingent of ISAF was left with having to make do with what it had.  With Obama's patently political decision, the entire Afghan strategy became one of marking time until we could leave, with no chance of accomplishing anything of real substance during his administration.  The shift into a COIN strategy was undertaken with a fatuous notion that it could occur in a security vacuum – living among the people became more important than trying to find, fix, attack, destroy and pursue the enemy.  The idea that both had to happen in order to be effective simply wasn't an option. 

What troops who were available in the area of Regional Command - East comprised some 50 rifle or maneuver companies, and were stretched among some 120 outposts in highly mountainous terrain.  For comparison's sake, average battalions of less than 1000 troops were covering areas about the size of a very mountainous Connecticut. 

It was apparent to higher authority that COP Keating (as were many others) was hung out to dry, particularly after the Battle of Wanat that occurred some 20 miles away and some fifteen months before, in July 2008.  In that battle, at an outpost in very similar circumstances to COP Keating, a similar-sized US unit was attacked by hundreds of AAF before being repulsed by the troops there thanks to the assistance of close air support, at the cost of nine US soldiers killed and 27 wounded.  George Santayana is credited with saying that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, and that axiom was to prove to be lethally true. 

Charlie Gibson of ABC News dutifully passed along a Taliban propaganda piece about the Battle of Wanat.  Note the enemy troops assembled and carrying a black al Qaeda flag at about 0:55, before including the press statement of the Taliban commander, in front of a white Taliban flag, at about 1:13.  This is one element that belies the academic nonsense that seeks to distinguish between the various Jihadi groups – when it comes to attacking US and NATO troops, they are effectively the same. 

COP Keating was thus subjected to a double-edged sword – on the one hand, a series of probing and harassing attacks by the AAF for some months, gaining information about the various responses – the tactics and procedures – of the American troops, and the outpost also began to pick up on information of a growing enemy presence in the area.  These attacks were duly reported up the chain of command, but they were dismissed and downgraded as inaccurate or inflated due to lack of corroborating intelligence, particularly signal intelligence, and the evidence of a larger number of AAF was dismissed due to the small numbers involved in the attacks, overlooking the idea that the outpost was being probed.  This type of complacent dismissal by the distant staff 'experts' was the same that led to the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, the Tet Offensive in 1968, and the Egyptian surprise success against the Israeli Bar-Lev Line in 1973, among too many other examples. 

On the other hand, despite a ramping up of enemy activity in the area and the probing attacks, Keating did not receive support in improving its defensive perimeter because it was slated to be shut down in July 2009, and the villagers were advised of that plan.  But due to command attention being diverted to other operations in the region (not the least of which was the nearby Battle of Ganjgal in September, with its poor staff support), that date was progressively postponed for months. 

COP Keating - before

Just two days before the attack, the outpost commander, Captain Stoney Portis, along with a platoon commander and a scout, were lifted out by helo in order to visit OP Fritsche by way of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Bostick in nearby Kunar province to the southeast.  The helo trip of an estimated 20 minutes was far more effective than the more exposed march up the trail that would take about four hours.  Shortly after lifting off, however, the helo was struck by enemy sniper fire and was damaged enough to have to return to base for repairs, taking the command element with them.  The only line officer left was First Lieutenant Andrew Bundermann, who was effectively left in command of the outpost.  The only other officer was Captain Christopher Cordova, a physician assistant who ran the small medical detachment of four other men in a make-shift sickbay that they had recently expanded and enhanced for protective measures. 

The enemy infiltrated into Urmul and surrounding areas the night before and quietly evacuated the residents.  The battle began that morning at 0558, with a continuous fusillade of rifle, heavy machine gun (DShK), RPG, mortar and recoilless rifle fire from all directions, with a simultaneous attack on OP Fritsche.  Bundermann and Sergeant First Class Jonathon Hill (the acting commander of the other platoon) said that the volume of fire signaled in just a few moments that this was not going to be one of the probing attacks to which they had become accustomed.  The heavy barrage of rifle and supporting arms fire continued unabated for at least three hours, with mortar rounds pounding Keating and Fritsche about every 15 seconds.  The high volume of fire effectively pinned the troops in place at the beginning, and the concentration of RPG and rifle fire on the mortar pits prevented their mortar crews (60mm and 120mm) in both locations from providing support. 

The developed hard points in the outpost defense were basically occupied by five armored HMMWVs with weapons such as .50-calibres and M240B (7.62mm) machine guns, along with a TOW missile launcher.  Each of them was subjected to heavy RPG fire in the well-rehearsed attack and all were hit at least six times each. 

The first response of the Americans after realizing the magnitude of the attack was to dash to their pre-assigned fighting positions, mainly to reinforce the armored vehicles and those on watch inside.  It took little time for them to evaluate the situation and the incoming firepower, but they too were well rehearsed in the worst-case scenarios.  It took a few moments to grasp that this surpassed their expectations in that regard, but they were also well versed in the axiom that anything you do in combat can get you killed, particularly if you do nothing. 

The first response of the Afghan ANA troops, subjected to an assault on their side of the compound, was to melt away and become almost immediately combat ineffective, and the AAF forces quickly overwhelmed and secured the nearby Afghan National Police station.  Both the police station near the Entry Control Point (ECP) and the mosque, which the enemy knew from frequent experience was supposed to be considered untouchable by the higher elements of US command, became strong points in the enemy plan for assault on the outpost.  Bundermann soon received word of "enemy in the wire", which he later mentioned, with a dark grin, was "a report that you don't ever want to get." 

Power to the installation was cut when a mortar round took out the main generator, and Bundermann and the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) then relied on the battery-powered TACSAT radio for communications to supporting forces.  It was this air support, in the form of helo and fixed-wing assets, as well as some 155mm artillery support from FOB Bostick that ultimately provided the extra edge in the battle.  (The artillery was barely within range and limited due to the high terrain surrounding them, so the TOC focused on shifting fires to support Fritsche, which in turn allowed the OP to man up their mortar and support Keating while still under fire.) 

Romesha, like others, moved between the positions giving aid and support to the troops.  At one point, he ran to a HHMWV to check on Specialist Zach Koppes.  When Koppes asked about the situation, Romesha said matter-of-factly, "This doesn't look good.  We're all going to die."  Romesha then laughed and asked how he was doing.  Koppes replied that he was pretty good except for the enemy sniper behind him.  Romesha picked up an ex-Soviet Dragunov sniper rifle left lying around from the absent ANA troops at about the same time that the enemy took a shot at him.  Romesha ducked behind cover but then alternately exposed himself ("playing peekaboo") with the sniper until Romesha could get a bead on him.  Romesha then fired at the position until he was satisfied that he had neutralized the sniper, then airily told Koppes, "Okay, I'm going to head out now." 

(Others may find this exchange difficult to understand, but I can appreciate his sense of humor in that situation, and it is something that doesn't easily lend itself to the worldview of non-veterans.  Usually the first example that pops into my mind – among many others – was one many years ago: I was part of rifle squad flying in a Marine H-34 helicopter (yes, that many years ago) when the engine suddenly cut out and we experienced that sickening drop in our stomachs.  A young Marine across from me started to panic, but then the staff NCO next to him reached up and put his hand on his shoulder and gently shook him in that Marine kind of way.  "What's wrong?" the sergeant strangely shouted (the situation seemed rather apparent to me at the time), and the young Marine said, with bulging eyes, "We're gonna crash!"  The sergeant gestured about the confined space and fixed the fellow with close eye contact, and said with an unforgettable, crazy grin, "That's okay!  We're all gonna die!"  That was all it took to calm down the disconcerted young Marine, oddly reassured that we were all in this together, before the rotors started to auto-rotate and the pilot re-started the engine.) 

Romesha continued to move about the compound.  He noted an intensity of fire from a reinforced enemy machine gun position and continued to expose himself in order to be certain of its exact location.  He took out that position and was about to engage another when the generator he was seeking cover behind was struck by an RPG, peppering him with shrapnel. 

Several accounts from journalists (being journalists) tell of how the outpost was "overrun".  That is a dramatic term but untrue – while the Taliban came close, the Americans and their two Latvian allies were for a time pushed back into only two buildings until they devised a plan and determination to take their post back, which by then was ablaze in several places and ultimately destroyed some 70% of the outpost including, ultimately, the TOC.  SSG Romesha, back with the command element by that time, summed up his attitude up to that point (using emphasis appropriate to the moment) to those around him: "We need to take this fucking place back and drive the fucking Taliban out!"  Bundermann, the First Sergeant and others in the TOC continued to communicate and coordinate with the supporting fires, while SFC Hill with Blue (3rd) Platoon and SSG Romesha with Red (1st) Platoon (at least those who came available), proceeded to split the camp between themselves and move out to steadily eliminate the enemy. 

Specialist Thomas Rasmussen was also back seeking more ammo to run out to the positions when he applied dressings to Romesha's wounds.  He was picked up by Romesha as part of his group to move out and re-take the outpost and along with Corporal Justin Gregory, they opened the door into the compound.  They were immediately confronted with a Taliban in the courtyard and a hail of automatic rifle fire.  Slamming the door, SPC Rasmussen prepared himself, then kicked open the door again, tossed hand grenades, and sprayed the area with rounds and grenades from his M-203 as they poured out of the enclosure. 

Once outside, Romesha saw three Taliban around a corner, with one wearing ANA camouflage.  They were relaxed and settling in as if they were assured that the battle was over and the Taliban had secured the outpost.  He asked the Latvians if any ANA were left at that position and confirmed that no, they were real targets.  "A gimme shot", Romesha recalled, and he leaned out and shot one in the head, killing him instantly.  The other two scrambled for cover but were taken out by the two Latvians with gunfire and grenades. 

The Taliban began to reinforce their attack with an increasing volume of recoilless rifle fire and RPGs.  Romesha sought out the pocket where the fire was coming from and coordinated air support to destroy it, killing some 30 enemy.  Romesha's ad hoc platoon (minus) attacked and re-secured the Ammo Supply Point and restocked on munitions (particularly grenades), all the while under fire, then re-took the ECP and set about barricading it.  All of them were involved to one degree or another with finding and moving their wounded comrades (some fatally) back to the aid station.  SGT Brad Larson was instrumental in aiding and recovering six men. 

To their credit, the air support assets ignored the political implications and blasted the Taliban hardened position in the mosque.

Captain Cordova, meanwhile, was busy attending to the medical and tactical needs of his aid station, and provides a compelling and illustrative account (pp 21-25).  The aid station ultimately treated 43 US and Afghan casualties. 

After the arrival of the QRF, and assisted by the air support that was stacked up and active throughout the battle, Keating and Fritsche were finally secured by twilight that night.  In this swirling and confusing battle, the biggest battle of the Afghan campaign after the Battle of Wanat, a number of heroes stood out in addition to Romesha, with  eight being awarded the Silver Star, including Cordova, Bundermann, Hill, Rasmussen, SGT Victor De La Cruz, SPC Keith Stickney, SGT Bradley Larson, and SSG Justin Gallegos (posthumous).

News of Romesha's Medal of Honor has revived interest in the history of COP Keating chronicled in The Outpost by Jake Tapper, formerly the White House correspondent for ABC and now an anchor for CNN.  Tapper admits that he had no background in understanding the military, and it shows, but he has put a great effort into showing the details of the history of what became COP Keating, and it is explained in a way that non-veterans can grasp.

Additionally, SPC Ty Carter has been recommended for a Medal of Honor as well.  Carter, a sniper, carried ammunition resupplies to besieged positions, all the while under withering fire, and under like conditions recovered a wounded soldier, to whom he administered first aid.  He also took a chain saw and cut down and removed a burning tree that was threatening to catch the aid station on fire, all the while under still fire from the enemy.  [Update: Carter has received the MoH at a White House ceremony on 26 August 2013.]

The battle was a victory for us at the end, though at a cost of eight KIA and 22 wounded in exchange for some 150 enemy casualties.  After a quick mop-up, the compound was abandoned within two days, which the Army insists was according to the original plan.  What couldn't be packed out was destroyed in place, and the site was bombed by a B-1 the day after. 

COP Keating - after

Despite this, al Jazeera (or maybe I should say Al Gore-zeera) television news portrayed Taliban fighters purportedly searching through scads of munitions left behind by Americans in their haste to depart. 

Taliban propaganda

This is a standard Taliban/Jazeera tactic to portray the battle as a victory for them; one sees the same claim on footage of the Wanat after-effects above, as well as Outpost Restrepo made famous by the documentary of the same name.  It takes nothing to haul in whatever the Taliban wants to show.
More Taliban propaganda

The Battle of Kamdesh, as it came to be known officially, was naturally the subject of an Army AR 15-6 investigation afterward, and the unclassified Executive Summary has become available.  It clearly concludes:
The Soldiers of B Troop demonstrated courage, bravery, and heroism as they inflicted over 150 casualties on enemy forces and reestablished their perimeter.  In the process, the Soldiers embodied the Warrior Ethos and recovered all friendly casualties.  As evening fell on the night of 3 October 2009, COP Keating remained solidly under US control and enemy forces had suffered a tactical defeat.  Eight American Soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice defending their outpost and their fellow Soldiers.
Those who gave their lives in battle were: SSG Justin T Gallegos, SGT Christopher T Griffin, SGT Joshua M Hardt, SGT Joshua J Kirk, SPC Stephan L Mace, SSG Vernon W Martin, SGT Michael P Scusa, and PFC Kevin C Thomson. 

In addition to the well-deserved praise for the combatants, the report held the higher command in condign censure:
The mission for COP Keating during the rotation of B Troop was unclear to the Soldiers of B Troop. . . . [O]wing to the limited manpower and tactical reach off of the compound, the mission devolved into one of base defense and by mid-2009 there was no tactical or strategic value to holding the ground occupied by COP Keating.  As a result, the chain of command decided to close the remote outpost as soon as it could.  Originally scheduled for closure in July-August 2009, COP Keating's withdrawal was delayed when the assets required to backhaul the base supplies were diverted. . . . Similarly, ISR assets [Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance] that could have given the Soldiers at COP Keating better situational awareness of their operational environment were reprioritized . . . 
The delayed closing of COP Keating is important as it contributed to a mindset of imminent closure that served to impede improvements in force protection to the COP.  There were inadequate measures taken by the chain of command, resulting in an attractive target for enemy fighters.  Over time, and without raising undue concern within the US intelligence system, the enemy conducted numerous probing attacks . . .
Compounding the situation for the Soldiers on COP Keating, intelligence assessments became desensitized to enemy actions over several months. . . . [T]he perception prevailed that reports of massing enemy forces were exaggerated and improbable.  The focus became the enemy's most likely, rather than his most dangerous course of action.
The result of the investigation was to issue four Letters of Reprimand or Admonition to four unnamed officers in the chain of command, up to the rank of colonel.  While I am fully aware that a "culture of excessive investigations" can create an eat-your-young, risk-averse atmosphere (the peacetime Army bureaucratic milieu that the administration is trying to re-impose) in a culture that demands risk-taking (calculated though it must be), I fully agree that some strict form of accountability must be demanded in this case of superlative courage overcoming self-inflicted obstacles.

In related news on the subject of the Medal of Honor, the recommendation for Captain Will Swenson, which has been the subject of controversy since the Battle of Ganjgal and his part in the investigation afterward, as well as questions about the handling of his recommendation package (lending it to speculation about political reprisal), is yet to be determined.  (Note that all recommendations for high-level decorations are handled in a confidential manner as a matter of policy, and it is only when discrepancies appear, such as in this case which drew Congressional inquiry, that such stories become a matter of public interest.)

As for the case of Sergeant Rafael Peralta, USMC, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta concluded that the new physical evidence submitted in the request for the Medal of Honor, as well as the testimony of another forensic pathologist that cast doubt on the conclusions of the pathologists who concluded that Peralta must have been dead from a head wound and was thus unable to sweep a grenade to his body to save the lives of his fellow Marines, despite the eye-witness testimony of those Marines, was insufficient to overcome the 'beyond a shadow of a doubt' requirement of the MoH.  The awarding of the Navy Cross thus remains as the official testimony of his heroic sacrifice of the last few moments of his life.  This concludes the congressional inquiry of Rep Duncan D Hunter (R-California) into the curious case and its conclusion.  Ironically, left unexplained is the fact that Peralta's citation for the Navy Cross states that he "reached out and pulled the grenade to his body", an action that the Medal of Honor panel concluded was impossible.

Update:  The medal has been awarded, with the accompanying official citation:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

"Staff Sergeant Clinton L. Romesha distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Section Leader with Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Combat Outpost Keating, Kamdesh District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan on October 3, 2009.

"On that morning, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his comrades awakened to an attack by an estimated 300 enemy fighters occupying the high ground on all four sides of the complex, employing concentrated fire from recoilless rifles, rocket propelled grenades, anti-aircraft machine guns, mortars and small arms fire.
"Staff Sergeant Romesha moved uncovered under intense enemy fire to conduct a reconnaissance of the battlefield and seek reinforcements from the barracks before returning to action with the support of an assistant gunner.

"Staff Sergeant Romesha took out an enemy machine gun team and, while engaging a second, the generator he was using for cover was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, inflicting him with shrapnel wounds.

"Undeterred by his injuries, Staff Sergeant Romesha continued to fight and upon the arrival of another soldier to aid him and the assistant gunner, he again rushed through the exposed avenue to assemble additional soldiers.

"Staff Sergeant Romesha then mobilized a five-man team and returned to the fight equipped with a sniper rifle. With complete disregard for his own safety, Staff Sergeant Romesha continually exposed himself to heavy enemy fire, as he moved confidently about the battlefield engaging and destroying multiple enemy targets, including three Taliban fighters who had breached the combat outpost’s perimeter.

"After receiving reports that seriously injured Soldiers were at a distant battle position, Staff Sergeant Romesha and his team provided covering fire to allow the injured Soldiers to safely reach the aid station.

"Upon receipt of orders to proceed to the next objective, his team pushed forward 100 meters under overwhelming enemy fire to recover and prevent the enemy fighters from taking the bodies of their fallen comrades. Staff Sergeant Romesha’s heroic actions throughout the day-long battle were critical in suppressing an enemy that had far greater numbers. His extraordinary efforts gave Bravo Troop the opportunity to regroup, reorganize and prepare for the counterattack that allowed the Troop to account for its personnel and secure Combat Outpost Keating.

"Staff Sergeant Romesha’s discipline and extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty reflect great credit upon himself, Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division and the United States Army."

Update: Staff Sergeant Ty Carter has been awarded the Medal of Honor as well.


  1. The media also portrayed the aftermath of Khe Sahn as a victory for the communists because, after all, we withdrew. Afghanistan has come to smell way too much like Vietnam to me, with the same level of political vacillation. Pretty amazing, the way we can't seem to win any campaigns anymore. Not a good time to be a soldier.

    1. When is the Command going to take some responsibility for the loss of life at this base? As a former Infantry Marine of 14 years and now an Army Officer of 24 years, all I have to say is what a sloppy job by the command right down to the LT at this base. I have listened to the stories by both MOH winners and even watched the video taken by the Taliban and here are my questions?

      1. Was there pre-planned fires documented to support this base?

      2. Why were there no smoke grenades used during this attack?

      A simple risk assessment of this base would have shown it was an easy target. It could be attacked on all sides. I have been in countless exercises where we had to map out pre planned targets even for air support. I don't believe they had any.

      I have also been on many exercises where we used smoke grenades. It would have been perfect in this situation. Smoke grenades in a valley would have lingered for some time. One story I listed too talked about three or four soldiers traped in a Humvee. They could not get out because they would draw sniper fire. A few smoke grenades would have given them the cover to get out of the vehicle and would have saved lives.

      So tell me - Where is there any accountability for this failure? Granted that there were hero's who went above and beyond but you have people who have escaped accountability.

    2. Vader, you bring up two good points.

      Pre-planned fires – I expect that they existed, that being a good portion of the Infantry 101 class. The problem (among the many) with this camp is that it was surrounded by high mountains on all sides, rendering it unsupportable by any artillery within range. That is one of the reasons for the establishment of OP Fritsche, to provide supporting fire from its mortars for the camp far below it in the valley. The attackers rightly targeted the OP in order to stifle its supporting mortars to the camp, just as they made the mortars in the camp a prime target as well. All other supporting fires had to come from close air support once it arrived on station out of Jalalabad, which set about nailing the attack around the OP so that it could provide the planned fires in and around COP Keating.

      As for smoke, it is useful as a screening agent in the open, but in this confined space you would blind yourself as much as the enemy, not to mention your air support. The attackers succeeded in knocking out most of the major points of attack early on (generators, mortars) though weren't able to follow through, but they continued – at the range of their supporting weapons such as DShKs and recoilless rifles, and AKs of the attackers closer in – to treat the camp as an area target and not so much as a collection of point targets. The idea of a large volume of fire into a small space, whether aimed at a specific target or not, was supposed to take care of American targets moving about just by the law of averages, so smoke would have had a practically negligible effect on that score, and ultimately would have been a detriment, I suspect.

      As for accountability, I mentioned the letters passed out once the smoke settled, but that wasn't enough to account for the misplaced idea (shall we say) of sacrificing sound tactical judgment in favor of a hand-holding exercise with the locals, with minimal assets and a whistle-past-the-graveyard attitude about hanging your own people out to dry. That one should go right past General McChrystal and land somewhere further up range, in the realm of the academics who saw everything in the hazy COIN strategy that was woefully mis-applied.

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