Three intelligence reports warned that Taliban insurgents were planning an attack just days before this month’s raid on two remote military outposts in eastern Afghanistan that killed eight U.S. soldiers, but the reports were dismissed as insignificant, U.S. officials told The Washington Times.
As a result, military officials did not send additional troops or make preparations to protect the 140 U.S. and Afghan troops at the combat outposts near Kamdesh in Nuristan province by the Pakistan border, the officials said.
Army Maj. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman for the Army’s Task Force Mountain Warrior, told The Times that the three reports did not stand out among hundreds of others and that the intelligence was deemed to be not specific and uncorroborated.
“Reports like this happen all the time in all of our areas,” Maj. Taylor said in an e-mail. “It is only through corroboration of reports and/or multiple instances of reporting that we can develop patterns.”
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One U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said that despite the Army’s characterization of the reports as insignificant, some of the reporting was included in finished intelligence that circulated in classified channels throughout the region before the attack. Finished intelligence is material that has been analyzed and determined to be of value.
A former senior Army officer said the intelligence should have prompted action to provide the outposts with more defenses.
“Why didn’t they react and have immediate support on site, based on the intelligence, and even based on the initial attack that occurred?” retired Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely asked.
Gen. Vallely said the outposts near the border should have been staffed with more Afghan troops, who despite eight years of U.S. assistance and training are not deemed capable of running such posts themselves.
The attacks on the Keating and Fritsche outposts - the deadliest in more than a year - are now being reviewed by the Pentagon. The disclosure of prior intelligence warnings comes as President Obama is weighing a request by his top commander in the region to deploy up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
Some 200 Taliban insurgents attacked the outposts on the morning of Oct. 3 with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, nearly overrunning the fortified bases.
They killed eight U.S. Army soldiers and two Afghan soldiers, making it the deadliest single attack against allied forces in Afghanistan since a similar raid in nearby Wanat in July 2008. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed in that battle, which prompted a re-evaluation of U.S. counterinsurgency tactics in Afghanistan.
One of the intelligence reports on Kamdesh, released in part to The Times, stated that a new Taliban sub-commander in Kamdesh, named Ghulan Faroq, had been appointed and “charged with attacking COP Keating,” but no date for the attack was given. COP is military shorthand for combat outpost.
The report also stated that on or about Sept. 29 or 30, “fighters in Kamdesh received a resupply of B-10 ammunition” suitable for use with Soviet-design B-10 recoilless guns that fire 82 mm mortarlike rounds.
A second report stated that, around Oct. 2, a Taliban meeting took place in Kamdesh and that “a Taliban commander will arrive in Kamdesh soon to conduct attacks against coalition forces.”
The third report stated that around late September, “a Taliban commander planned to conduct simultaneous attacks against coalition bases in Gewardesh, Kamu and Kamdesh regions of Nuristan and that each attack would be perpetrated by 10-15 Taliban fighters in each location.”
“At the same time as these attacks, another unit would attack Barg-e Matal with up to 150 fighters.”
Despite the information in the intelligence reports, Maj. Taylor insisted that the attack took the 50 U.S. troops and 90 Afghan police officers and soldiers at the combat outposts by surprise.
“There was no early warning of attacks or significant reporting in the area, which would lead us to believe there would be attacks,” he said.
Asked to define significant reporting, Maj. Taylor said that “no significant reporting means that there was no reporting that would lead anyone to believe that anything was out of the ordinary.”
Nuristan province is considered a hotbed of al Qaeda and Taliban forces. It is located close to the border where insurgents regularly cross into refuges in Pakistan.
The Army operates several intelligence units in the eastern region of Afghanistan that are in charge of collecting, analyzing and disseminating reports. A military official said communications between headquarters and the outposts was not a problem.
Maj. Taylor said the attack on the outposts, which left at least 27 injured, is under investigation by the military under Article 15-6 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Such inquiries occur “any time there is a loss of life,” he said.
Before the attack, the 200 Taliban and other Islamist insurgents infiltrated a mosque in Kamdesh and dug into positions on adjacent hillsides within firing range of the bases.
The U.S. and Afghan soldiers fought back with 155 mm artillery despite heavy enemy fire that limited their capacity to return fire. The soldiers received no combat air support until Apache attack helicopters reached the outposts 30 minutes after the attack began.
After the July 2008 battle at nearby Wanat, the military conducted an investigation to determine whether commanders had been negligent. Military analysts say that battle led to a decision to begin moving forces out of remote hard-to-defend areas.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, has proposed a counterinsurgency strategy that would move U.S. troops closer to larger population centers with a goal of better protecting the Afghan public against the insurgents. The risk is that the Taliban will be able to move more freely and control more of the countryside.
Both Kamdesh and Wanat are symptomatic of what critics have called the “under-resourced war” in Afghanistan - one that is being fought with too few troops and without other needed equipment.
A draft U.S. military report circulating in military circles stated that troops at the Wanat outpost were distracted by preparations for replacements and did not have enough surveillance drones in use to detect preparations for the attack.
The combat posts at Kamdesh were abandoned days after the battle and then bombed by U.S. aircraft. Western news agencies reported that a Taliban spokesman had boasted that the group’s flag was flying over the abandoned outposts.