U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, a Vietnam combat veteran and former Navy secretary, has blasted the Army for its "failure" to assess the decisions of senior leaders in a new study of the deadly 2008 Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, an omission that has rendered the review "flawed and biased," he said.
On one level the Army "lessons learned" report produced by the Combat Studies Institute reflects a comprehensive effort to understand what transpired before and during the battle, Webb, D-Va., said in a letter last week to Army Secretary John McHugh.
"However, the conclusions expressed in the study’s final chapter fall well short of the mark in providing an understanding of command accountability," Webb said.
Aiea resident David Brostrom’s son, Jonathan, was a 24-year-old first lieutenant in charge of a platoon that was ambushed by an overwhelming force of about 200 enemy fighters in the village of Wanat on July 13, 2008, in eastern Afghanistan.
Nine U.S. soldiers including Jonathan Brostrom were killed and 27 others were wounded in the battle, the greatest combat loss excluding helicopter crashes since the war began in 2001.
David Brostrom, a retired Army colonel who fought for and obtained a reinvestigation of the battle, said he now believes the Army is trying to whitewash the historical record to protect Army leadership.
Brostrom said the final 274-page report unjustly removes blame from Army commanders and places it on his relatively low-ranking son, a Damien Memorial and University of Hawaii graduate.
Forty-nine Americans and 24 Afghan soldiers had
arrived just days before the attack to set up a new outpost in Wanat and were low on water and other supplies in 100-degree heat.
"It all boils down to, What’s going to last the longest here? What are people going to go back to to read about Wanat?" Brostrom said. "It’s always going to be that study, (and) that study fell well short of where it should be."
Webb, in his letter, said through no fault of Jonathan Brostrom, the plan to establish Wanat began to fall apart before he even arrived.
Webb echoes Brostrom’s concern and lays blame, asking "where today’s soldiers might go to learn that, had 1st Lt. Brostrom’s senior commanders displayed greater attention to the evolving situation experienced by 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company before July 13, 2008, events may well have turned out differently."
Lt. Col. Robert Whetstone, a spokesman at the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., which includes the Combat Studies Institute, said "much academic rigor" went into the study. He added that the study and reinvestigation "each followed separate appropriate processes."
Wanat has become a prominent Afghanistan battle reference point for a failed U.S. strategy of stringing out small numbers of troops in remote mountain passes.
It also has become noteworthy for David Brostrom and Webb’s successful efforts to secure a high-level reinvestigation of the battle, an inquiry that faulted a company, battalion and brigade commander.
Those findings were later overturned by a four-star Army general. Brostrom wants the reinvestigation findings that are critical of leadership included in the "lessons learned" study.