Tom Coghlan in Afghanistan
February 6, 2010
Half an hour after the attack began, the American commander radioed his superiors. Taleban fighters had penetrated his defensive perimeter in three places, he said, and only the tactical operations centre remained in his hands.
His ammunition store was overrun and his only remaining communications link was a satellite phone. “I’m telling you that if they don’t get here f****** soon, we’re all going to f****** die,” he shouted, above a din of gunfire.
Praising the courage of its troops, but condemning a succession of errors by ground commanders, the US military released yesterday parts of its internal investigation into a now notorious Taleban attack that nearly overran an American base in October.
The attack on Combat Outpost (COP) Keating, close to the Pakistan border, prompted a significant reassessment of US tactics, particularly the usefulness of small combat outposts in sparsely populated areas. American commanders have since abandoned several such positions.
The report, by Major-General Guy Swan, is highly critical of the chain of events that led to the deaths of eight American soldiers, with 32 of the outpost’s 60 defenders injured.
The base was poorly sited “in a deep bowl” and had no tactical worth, he reports. Plans to close it were delayed, but a “mindset of imminent closure” meant that commanders had not worked on the defences. Enemy fighters launched 47 attacks in the five months before October 3, 2009, apparently testing defences.
However, the report heaps praise on the “tremendous courage, tenacity and valor with which the soldiers of B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry, fought”.
As many as 150 of an estimated 300 attackers were killed or injured.
The report corroborates a leaked unofficial account, apparently written by a US army radio operator who listened to the unfolding battle. The attack began at 5.58am with a barrage of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), and small-arms fire, the report says. Within two minutes a soldier was killed in the base mortar pit. His commander reported that insurgents were firing down into the base from above, pinning down his main defence, a 60mm and a 120mm mortar.
The commander, who is not named in the report, made an urgent request for air support but was told it would take 45 minutes to arrive.
Soon after, the commander reported “people inside our wire” as Taleban fighters forced entry through the latrines of the Afghan National Army quarters, setting it on fire.
By 6.30am five Americans were dead. Heavy RPG fire was reported to be coming from the mosque of the neighbouring village. Two minutes later the American defenders fell back to their tactical headquarter building as a “final fighting position”.
According to the radio operator’s account, Taleban fighters had also overrun the ammunition store.
The official report states: “With critical supporting fires from USAF close-air support and AH-64 Apache helicopter close-combat aviation fires, the junior officers and NCOs regained the initiative and fought back during the afternoon hours to regain control of COP Keating.”According to the radio operator’s account, the base commander reported in the late afternoon that the base was slowly burning to the ground and that if they lost air cover and another attack began they were “done”. Asked whether he could reoccupy the whole base, the commander replied: “(I) just can’t do it. I just don’t have enough people. I have too many wounded.”
At 7.02pm, 13 hours after the attack began, reinforcements arrived
Click to view image: 'Image US in Afganistan'
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