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Editorial | Island Voices

Leaders let down the 9 killed in Wanat

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Having read Star-Advertiser reporter William Cole’s outstanding reporting and series recently ("Army overrules rebuke of officers," June 24), it is quite apparent that the whole situation was a total failure of leadership on the part of the brigade and battalion commanders of that platoon from the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

There is no doubt in my mind, as a U.S. Marine Corps officer for 26 years, with two combat tours in Vietnam as tank platoon and tank company commander, that the soldiers under the command of Lt. Jonathan Brostrom fought valiantly and bravely and were a credit to their unit and the United States of America. The problem lies in the U.S. Army’s leadership.

Did the brigade or battalion commander assess the tactical consideration of sending a small, undermanned rifle platoon with some local military into harm’s way? I think not. In the military tactics doctrine there is an acronym called METT, which means Mission, Enemy, Terrain and Troops available. Did the brigade or battalion commander consider this basic doctrine? The answer clearly is no.

First, military tactics teach you to use the terrain to your advantage; these soldiers were put into a low-lying area where they were sitting ducks for the enemy. Their positions were easily marked and, at night, under the cover of darkness, totally annihilated.

Secondly, where was the fire support plan to include artillery harassing and interdiction, predesignated artillery targets and air support for the troops in Wanat? From what I read, there was none. They were sent out in harm’s way as cannon fodder while the brigade commander and battalion commander sat comfortably and safely at Camp Blessing.

Was there a reaction force plan? Apparently not—it took an inordinate time for the Apache helicopters to arrive and artillery fire to repel the enemy attack. By that time, the damage was already done, leaving dead and wounded for no apparent reason but the lack of leadership on the part of the Brigade Commander, Col. Charles Preysler and his battalion commander, Lt. Col. William Ostlund.

While they are now safely back in military billets back home, the bodies of nine young soldiers who died at Wanat are now resting in hallowed graves.

If there is any justice in the system, Preysler and Ostlund should have been summarily relieved of command and court-martialed or disciplined for their incompetency.

May those brave soldiers under Lt. Brostrom’s command who were killed at Wanat rest in peace, and that justice be done and actions be taken to prevent further senseless deaths in Afghanistan.

Kenneth W. Zitz is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He resides in Waialua.

 

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