Senator, Historian Question Conduct of Army Commanders Before Afghan Attack

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and an Army historian are raising serious questions about the performance of Army commanders prior to an assault that killed nine U.S. soldiers at a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan last July.

Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) said he has asked the Pentagon's inspector general to conduct a formal examination of the Taliban assault and suggested that the Army may have mishandled an investigation of the incident. He also cited the flawed investigation into the death of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, a well-known football player who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004.

"The manner in which the Army mishandled the aftermath of Pat Tillman's tragic death raised serious questions about the integrity of some who held high positions in its leadership structure," Webb, who saw intense combat as a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam, said in an e-mailed statement. "This incident raises similar questions. Its importance is not merely to provide lessons learned for future operations. It speaks directly about the Army's ability to speak honestly to itself and to the American public."

The attack on the outpost in the village of Wanat was among the deadliest of the war in Afghanistan. The Army concluded a few months later that Afghan government leaders in the area had conspired with the enemy before the assault. The investigation largely absolved senior Army leaders in the area of any serious errors related to the incident.

In a July 9 letter, Webb asked the Pentagon's then-acting inspector general to have his office look into the incident. "I believe a more thorough consideration of senior command accountability is warranted," the senator wrote.

The letter cites an unreleased draft report written by an Army historian at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., that is sharply critical of the way senior Army leaders in Afghanistan performed before the assault. Soldiers at the remote base were short of basic necessities such as water and sandbags and repeatedly complained that they were in a precarious position, according to the historian's report.

A few days before the assault, a U.S. helicopter attack mistakenly killed all of the Afghan doctors and nurses from a local clinic, infuriating villagers throughout the area, according to Douglas Cubbison's draft report.

Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, the platoon leader who was killed at the Wanat base, sent word up to his senior commanders that he was worried that a retaliatory attack was imminent, the draft report states. Rather than bolstering security, officers at Bagram air base ordered the withdrawal of all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets from the area.

Brostrom's father, retired Army Col. David. P. Brostrom, alerted Webb's office to the Army historian's report. "After I read the report, I was sick to my stomach," Brostrom said. The existence of the document was first reported on the Web site of Foreign Policy, which is owned by The Washington Post Co.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company