By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; A07
A military investigation into an ambush that left nine Americans dead recommends that the Army consider taking disciplinary action against three U.S. commanders who oversaw the 2008 mission to send troops to the remote Afghan outpost, defense officials said Tuesday.
The investigation into the bloody battle at Wanat, near the border with Pakistan, was undertaken last fall at the urging of Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nine soldiers were killed and 27 wounded during the attack at the outpost, which raged for several hours. Among the dead was 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, whose father, a retired Army colonel, pushed for more than a year to persuade the Pentagon to launch a probe of the battle.
The military's report, which spans almost 4,000 pages, has been sent to Gen. Charles Campbell, the head of U.S. Army Forces Command, to determine whether formal disciplinary action should be taken against any of the officers.
"We remain in close contact with the families of our fallen from this battle, and they will be invited to a comprehensive briefing on the investigation following General Campbell's actions," Army Secretary John McHugh said in a statement. Campbell could decide that none of the officers should be disciplined.
The investigators, led by a three-star Marine general, will release the report after Campbell has made his decision and the families of the deceased soldiers have been briefed on its contents.
The report suggests that disciplinary measures be considered against Capt. Matthew Myer, the company commander, who was awarded the Silver Star for his valor in calling in air strikes during the attack, and Lt. Col. William Ostlund, the battalion commander who oversaw the operation, military officials said.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, reviewed the probe's findings and recommended that Col. Charles Preysler, the brigade commander who oversaw the operation, should also be considered for disciplinary action because, under Army doctrine, he would have also been responsible for some of the shortcomings, military officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation has not been released.
Petraeus declined to comment on the report or his role in reviewing it. The three officers who might be subject to disciplinary action did not respond to e-mails.
The Wanat attack and a similar ambush in the village of Kamdesh that killed eight soldiers last fall led U.S. commanders to pull troops from many remote villages that have been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the war. Instead, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has pushed U.S. troops into the larger river valleys, where they are supposed to focus on protecting the population instead of chasing the enemy.
The troops were sent to Wanat after senior commanders decided that the outpost they were occupying in the nearby village of Bella was too vulnerable to enemy attack. The move to Wanat, which is surrounded by mountains, ran into trouble almost from the outset. The soldiers building the base were supposed to have 16,000 pounds of construction material for defensive bunkers, as well as big earth movers and a five-day supply of water, said a senior military official who was briefed on the plan. But the Afghan construction firm that was supposed to ferry the supplies to the base didn't show up on time. The troops also ran short of water after two days and reported being mildly dehydrated.
On July 13, five days after the platoon arrived at the base, it was attacked by as many as 200 insurgents, military officials said.
The investigation into Wanat did not fault any of the commanders for their performance during the battle but probed why the troops didn't have the supplies and firepower needed to better withstand the Taliban assault at the outpost, the military officials said.