After suffering significant setbacks in the fight against insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan troops have pulled out of a combat outpost where nine U.S. soldiers were killed in a pitched battle with Taliban fighters Sunday..
U.S. and Afghan soldiers withdrew from the makeshift outpost near the remote village of Wanat as Taliban fighters swarmed the area near the border of the eastern provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, NATO and Afghan officials said Wednesday. An unspecified number of NATO and Afghan troops remain in the remote region near the edge of Pakistan's western border, said Capt. Mike Finney, a spokesman for NATO's mission in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.
The combat outpost in Wanat had only been operational for two or three days before Taliban insurgents launched a sophisticated assault on it Sunday, according to NATO officials. Hundreds of Taliban fighters attacked the outpost with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and gunfire. About 100 to 150 U.S. and Afghan soldiers struggled to repel the early morning attack, firing a fusillade of bullets on insurgents who had taken up positions in a village mosque and several other locations.
In addition to the nine U.S. troops killed, 15 American and at least four Afghan soldiers were wounded after insurgents breached the outer area of the outpost. The attack was the deadliest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led military operations began in the country in 2001.
As I speculated here when the attack happened, no amount of "spin" is going to make us believe this didn't matter. Pulling troops out is significant, but doesn't hand much to the Taliban or tribal fighters. They're not interested in real estate because they can obviously assemble and move in larger numbers than before. They're interested in conducting these larger, overwhelming attacks and then disappearing.
Was the outpost poorly positioned? Did someone select a piece of ground that couldn't be defended? If this was a tactical mistake, easily rectified by moving troops to a place that is more suitable to defend, will there be an assessment done of ALL the outposts?
My belief is that we are going to have to consolidate into company-sized elements for defense, add considerable firepower to allow troops to defend themselves better, and start preparing ourselves for a fight more akin to Korea than anything else. Shortages of troops, of weapons, and the undesirable terrain work against us.
[Yes, we acknowledge--they shouldn't be there, we never should have invaded, the Brits lost a bunch of men there, the Russians were whipped, etc. We get that. We're dealing with the here and now, not the woulda-shoulda-coulda.]