Afghan soldiers ran, hid during attack
US military issues report on deadly 2009 firefight
WASHINGTON — As one of the deadliest battles of the war in Afghanistan raged, Afghan soldiers ran, hid, and even stole personal items from the American soldiers fighting and dying at a remote outpost.
When the Oct. 3, 2009, firefight at Combat Outpost Keating ended near the Pakistan border, eight US soldiers were dead and 22 more were wounded. A military investigation released yesterday said the 53 Americans at Keating fought heroically, repelling hundreds of insurgents, but the investigation also faulted US commanders for leaving their troops in a vulnerable position. And the Afghan soldiers got a withering appraisal from soldiers interviewed by investigators.
The United States has spent billions since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan army and police. Afghan security forces capable of defeating insurgents and terrorists are an essential ingredient in the Obama administration’s plans to begin withdrawing American forces, and senior US national security officials speak optimistically of progress.
But first-hand accounts from the battle at Keating, detailed in witness statements included in the investigation, provide a different, highly critical view.
One of the harshest came from two Latvian soldiers stationed at Keating and responsible for mentoring the three dozen Afghan troops at the base in Nuristan Province. The Latvians told the US investigators that the Afghan soldiers lacked “discipline, motivation, and initiative.’’
Close to 300 insurgents attacked Keating at dawn with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and guns. As the chaos of combat enveloped the base, the Latvians said they saw three Afghan soldiers at the aid station waiting to be treated for minor scratches and cuts. An Afghan platoon sergeant was in a corner of the station, curled up in a fetal position, they told investigators.
Later, they opened a door to one of the buildings and found several other soldiers and Afghan security guards sitting on beds “anxiously waiting.’’ None of them had weapons at the ready or made an aggressive move when the door swung open.
In other buildings, they found Afghan soldiers “in ones and twos, hiding under blankets in the fetal position.’’
Protein drinks, digital cameras, and other personal items that belonged to the Americans were found in the overstuffed duffel bags of Afghan soldiers as they were being moved to another base on an Army helicopter after the battle had ended, investigators were told.
“A majority of the duffels contained materials that had been pillaged from the US soldiers’ barracks rooms,’’ said a memo summarizing comments.
In a summary of the findings, Army General Guy Swan said US ground commanders left the troops at Keating in a vulnerable position without adequate support. Swan recommended giving four officers letters of admonition or reprimand. A reprimand is more serious than an admonition. Both can negatively affect an officer’s career.