I wrote a post this morning (see below) about this op-ed in today’s New York Times that says American troops in Afghanistan are at undue risk because of ISAF commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s restrictions on the use of air strikes. McChrystal’s aim is to reduce civilian casualties which defeat the whole purpose of trying to win over a population, which is his mission.
The op-ed’s author used as an example of McChrystal’s guidance tying troops hands and leading to dead Americans the ambush of a Marine patrol in Ganjgal last September that left five Americans and eight Afghan soldiers dead. Calling it an “egregious episode of failed support,” Lara Dadkhah, the op-ed’s author, said the Marine’s request for fire support was denied because of concerns over civilian casualties. Wrong.
McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay, who was embedded with the Marine patrol in Ganjgal, got hold of the official report of the battle and it turns out incompetence among the officers present, not an inordinate concern over causing civilian casualties, is what delayed air support.
Landay writes (emphasis mine):
“The acting commander and “all commissioned staff officers” failed to “monitor a rapidly degenerating tactical situation,” the report said. That mistake “prevented timely supporting fires in the critical early phases of the operation and ensured that higher headquarters did not grasp the tactical situation.”
Only four artillery salvoes were fired in the first hour of the operation; three were ineffective and no more salvoes were authorized from 6:39 a.m. to 4:15 p.m., the report said.
One of the majors told the investigators that he denied further requests for fire support “for various reasons including: lack of situational awareness of locations of friendly elements; proximity to the village; garbled communications; or inaccurate or incomplete calls for fire.”
The inquiry, however, found that too many calls over a radio network “may account for some confusion in the conduct of fires, but in our judgment is not an adequate explanation for the complete lack of fires from 0639 until 1615.”
The report found that the failure to provide adequate artillery support wasn’t due to a tactical directive issued by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal that was designed to avert civilian casualties, as officers involved in the battle had believed.”
Landay writes that there were helicopter gunships flying nearby but that they were providing close air support to another operation.
“An unidentified officer denied requests from the battlefield to send a helicopter gunship that was minutes away because the requests weren’t sent through his brigade headquarters and the aircraft was assigned to another operation, the report said.”
Updated: The Ganjgal Report has been released and can be found here.