WASHINGTON — The absence of experienced senior leaders and inadequate action by officers in a tactical operations center, including a failure to provide effective artillery and air support, contributed to the deaths of five U.S. troops and nine Afghans in a Sept. 8 battle, an official investigation has found.
Three unidentified officers from the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., received official reprimands following the inquiry into the clash, which erupted after Afghan security forces and U.S. Army and Marine trainers were ambushed in the Ganjgal Valley, near the border with Pakistan in northeastern Kunar province.
“This event highlights the enduring importance of the inherent duties and responsibilities of command,” said the executive summary of the investigation, which was obtained by McClatchy. “While authorities may be delegated, responsibility cannot.”
The Army and Marine colonels who conducted the inquiry praised the “extreme heroism” of several U.S. troops, saying their actions “stand out as extraordinary examples worthy of the highest recognition.”
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The names of the colonels and the troops were redacted from the summary, which hasn’t been released publicly.
A McClatchy correspondent was embedded with the U.S. trainers for the operation, which was launched after elders in the village of Ganjgal publicly disavowed the Taliban and agreed to accept the authority of local Afghan officials.
Some 90 Afghan troops and border police were to search the village, and then hold a meeting with the elders. About a dozen U.S. trainers accompanied them.
The contingent was ambushed as it moved up the valley just after dawn, pinned down by a withering storm of fire from insurgents in the village and the surrounding mountainsides armed with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles and machine guns.
Eight Afghan troops and an Afghan translator also were killed. Two U.S. Marines and 19 Afghan troops and border police were wounded.
The investigation found that numerous oversights contributed to the deaths of the U.S. and Afghan forces. Most involved 10th Mountain Division officers assigned to Forward Operating Base Joyce, the U.S. outpost that had tactical control of the operation.
The base commander was on leave, his deputy was deployed elsewhere and the response to the ambush by the officers who manned the tactical operations center in their absence was “inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life,” the report said.
Two majors, the senior officers there, “were not continually present” in the operations center. They left a captain who’d been on the overnight shift in charge of the center for more than four hours after the fighting began.
The officers’ names were redacted from the report that McClatchy obtained.