Saturday, February 6, 2010

Military Chain of Command Responsible for Combat Outpost Keating

On October 3, 2009 Afghan insurgents attacked two American combat outposts. Eight American soldiers and two Afghan police died that day in a violent battle for Combat Outpost Keating (COP Keating), as a full-out Taliban assault breached the camp perimeter. Today we learn that "inadequate measures taken by the chain of command" facilitated the attack.

The lessons of COP Keating will not be soon forgotten. In the summer of 2009, the decision was made to close Keating, but those in command just didn't get around to doing it. That indecision brought a "mindset of imminent closure" which kept the outpost's defenses from being improved and updated - even though intelligence warned of a strike by a large enemy force. "These inadequate defenses made Keating "an attractive target" for the Taliban.

COP Keating was manned by the Bravo Troop of the 3rd Squadron of the 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. The regiment's commanding officer was Lt. Col. Robert Brown, and his superior officer was Col. Randy George.

According to Gen. Stanley McChrystal appropriate action" has been taken, but no names have been released.

At dawn of Oct. 3, a force of some 300 fighters, supported by indirect fire from surrounding mountains, managed to overrun Keating's perimeter, torching its generators, disabling its tactical operations center, and suppressing the American troops' ability to fire mortars in self-defense, the investigation report said.

The insurgents also took over the nearby Afghan police station, while Afghan army soldiers guarding the eastern side of the outpost failed to hold their positions.
With the help of air support, Bravo Troop's soldiers regained control of the outpost in the afternoon and recovered the bodies of their comrades. While the U.S. military criticized the decisions up the chain of command, it praised the members of the Bravo Troop for distinguishing themselves "with conspicuous gallantry, courage and bravery."
COP Keating was placed at the bottom of a steep ravine. Tactically, perhaps not the best placement. Reconnaissance, intelligence and surveillance for COP Keating was diverted to other areas:
The U.S. military had decided to close the outpost by July-August 2009, but delayed the move because of other military operations in a nearby district.

Such a "mindset of imminent closure" prevented the unit from improving the outpost's defenses even as intelligence reports warned of a planned strike by "a large enemy force," Friday's report said. These inadequate defenses, in turn, made Keating "an attractive target" for the Taliban, the report said.
Reprimands underway?
As many as five battlefield commanders have received letters of reprimand in the past month or have been the subject of an investigation by a general who recommended disciplinary action. A sixth commander received a less-severe formal letter of admonishment. None of the investigations or letters of reprimand has been released publicly.

The military's invigorated focus on accountability also seems driven by commanders' experience in war zones. Many of today's senior commanders in Iraq nd Afghanistan are on their second or third combat tours and are more willing to judge their field subordinates. Meanwhile, the military is showing a greater willingness to study and learn from its mistakes, senior military officials said. 
When we first heard the news of COP Keating there was something about it that grabbed our hearts. Our men had lost everything. They had only the clothes on their backs. A soldier in the fight was quoted saying "most people back home don't even know...no one gives a shit." This from the only reporter on the scene, Karen Russo of ABC News:f
Flying into the besieged Afghan base during a nighttime firefight this weekend was a harrowing mix of overwhelming noise, stomach dropping maneuvers and shadows hurrying through the gloom.

When the chopper lifted off moments later with three wounded soldiers, it left behind others who wer wounded but refused to be MEDEVACED out of the combat zone so they could return to fight with their buddies.
Responsibility has been assigned now. How difficult it must be for our men and women in uniform, of all ranks, who fight bloody wars under a Commander-in-Chief and Congressmen who signal such low regard for success on the battlefield.

More on COP Keating:
Threat Matrix Bill Roggio - Army releases report on battle at Combat Outpost Keating
The Battle of COP Keating: an earwitness account
Lone Airman at COP Keating recounts enemy attack

©2007-2012copyrightMaggie M. Thornton