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Wanat tragedy deserves independent investigation

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Aiea resident David Brostrom, a retired Army colonel, is justifiably furious that the Army has chosen not to discipline three officers for their command negligence leading to a firefight that resulted in the deaths of Brostrom’s son and eight other soldiers and the wounding of 27 others. Congressional hearings are warranted to determine the facts leading up to the firefight and to prevent further blunders.

Investigations have determined that Brostrom’s son, Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, the platoon leader who was killed in the July 2008 firefight, had expressed concern to his superiors about a retaliatory attack following a U.S. helicopter’s mistaken assault that killed all of the Afghan doctors and nurses at a clinic in the remote village of Wanat, where the platoon was based.

In response, all intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets were withdrawn from the area. Insurgents then attacked the U.S. troops.

An investigation by Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski led in January to letters of reprimand to Col. Charles Preysler, commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team; Lt. Col. William Ostlund, the battalion commander; and Capt. Matthew Myer, a company commander. The reprimands, if taken effect, could have ended their military careers.

This week, Natonski briefed families of those killed about his findings in Washington, D.C. After Natonski left the room, Army Gen. Charles C. Campbell told them he had decided to take no action against the three officers.

Brostrom, who retired from the Army in 2004, and members of the other families were so disturbed that they walked out of the briefing before it was over.

"There wasn’t one family member of those 15 that were there that was not very upset," he said. "Nobody understood."

Last October, The Washington Post chronicled how the senior Brostrom, who had become a friend of Preysler when they served at the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu, was instrumental in gathering facts about the incident. After contacting his son’s fellow soldiers, he filed a formal complaint with the Defense Department’s inspector general and fed information to Douglas R. Cubbison, a military historian who had been directed by a general who ran Army training centers to study the incident.

Brostrom then showed a draft of Cubbison’s report to Sen. James Webb, D-Va., who had been a platoon leader in the Vietnam War. Webb’s letter asking the Defense Department to open a "re-investigation" into the incident resulted in Natonski’s probe.

In a statement this week, Webb, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he found "deeply troubling" the Army review of the Natonski investigation, "resulting in the annulment of all three letters of reprimand."

Webb is correct in pointing out that exoneration of the officers and rejection of the independent investigation raise "concerns regarding the principle of command accountability in the Army." Webb’s committee would be the proper venue for a thorough review free of pressure from inside the Army.

 

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