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Mark Bowden Wanat Article from Vanity Fair

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  • Mark Bowden Wanat Article from Vanity Fair

    I spent a good chunk of this morning reading this instead of marking the math tests that are on my desk. I know that this battle has been discussed a good bit on this board, thought some of you might find this as interesting as I did. Its a long article so you have to click through to get the rest of it.

    Echoes from a Distant Battlefield | Politics | Vanity Fair

    December 2011
    Echoes from a Distant Battlefield

    When First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom was killed by Taliban fighters in 2008, while attempting a heroic rescue in a perilously isolated outpost, his war was over. His father’s war, to hold the U.S. Army accountable for Brostrom’s death, had just begun. And Lieutenant Colonel William Ostlund’s war—to defend his own record as commander—was yet to come. With three perspectives on the most scrutinized engagement of the Afghanistan conflict, one that shook the military to its foundations, Mark Bowden learns the true tragedy of the Battle of Wanat.
    By Mark Bowden Photograph by Jonas Fredwall Karlsson
    THE WAR AT HOME The family of Jonathan P. Brostrom, who was killed at Wanat. From left: Brostrom’s mother, Mary Jo; his father, David, a retired colonel; and his brother, Blake, a lieutenant.
    I. The Lieutenant’s Battle

    One man on the rocky slope overhead was probably just a shepherd. Two men was suspicious but might have been two shepherds. Three men was trouble. When Second Platoon spotted four, then five, they prepared to shoot.

    Dark blue had just begun to streak the sky over the black peaks that towered on all sides of their position. The day was July 13, 2008. Captain Matthew Myer stood beside the driver’s-side door of a Humvee parked near the center of a flat, open expanse about the length of a football field where the platoon was building a new combat outpost, known as a COP. The vehicle was parked on a ramp carved in the rocky soil by the engineering squad’s single Bobcat, with its front wheels high so that its TOW missiles could be more easily aimed up at the sheer slopes to the west. The new outpost was hard by the tiny Afghan village of Wanat, at the bottom of a stark natural bowl, and the 49 American soldiers who had arrived days earlier felt dangerously exposed.

    Myer gave the order for an immediate coordinated response with the platoon’s two heaviest weapons, the TOW system and a 120-mm. mortar, which sat in a small dugout a few paces west of the ramp, surrounded by HESCO barriers, canvas-and-wire frames that are filled with dirt and stone to create temporary walls. The captain was walking back to his command post, about 50 yards north, when the attack hit.

    It was 20 minutes after four in the morning. Myer and Second Platoon, one of three platoons under his command scattered in these mountains, were at war in a place as distant from America’s consciousness as it was simply far away. Wanat lies high in the Hindu Kush at the southern edge of Nuristan Province, in Afghanistan’s rugged Northeast. Jagged mountains, reaching as high as 25,000 feet, tower over V-shaped valleys that angle sharply down to winding rivers. Wanat was at the confluence of the Waygal River and a small tributary. It was home to about 50 families, who carved out a spare existence on a series of green, irrigated terraces. A single partially paved road wound south toward Camp Blessing, the headquarters for Task Force Rock, Second Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. This battalion HQ was just five miles away in the fish-eye lens of a high-flying drone, but on the ground it was a perilous journey of about an hour—perilous because ambushes and improvised explosives were common. In Wanat it was easy to feel that you were hunkered down on the far edge of nowhere, fighting the only people in the world who seemed to badly want the place. You needed something like a graduate degree in geopolitics and strategy to have any idea why it was worth dying for.

    Yet killing and dying—mostly killing—were what Task Force Rock was doing here. In army parlance, Afghanistan had become an “economy of force” action, which meant, in so many words, “make do.” The infrastructure-and-cultural-development projects that had arrived with the first wave of Americans, seven years earlier, had dried to a trickle. Ever since President Bush had followed up rapid military success in Afghanistan with a massive invasion of Iraq, in 2003, the nation’s attention had been riveted on Baghdad. But the war against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and like-minded local militias had never ended in these mountains. Small units of American soldiers were dug into scores of tiny, isolated combat posts, perched high on promontories, ostensibly projecting the largely theoretical Afghan central government into far-flung valleys and villages.

    Second Platoon was part of Myer’s Chosen Company, the “Chosen Few,” who wore patches on their uniforms displaying a stylized skull fashioned after the insignia of the Marvel-comic-book character “Punisher.” Twenty-first-century America had staked its claim to this combat outpost in Wanat, punctiliously negotiating the lease of a piece of ground from village landlords. They had first occupied it in darkness, in a driving rain, just three days earlier.
    Last edited by HKDan; 28 Nov 11,, 04:11.

  • #2
    whew great read. Thanks for posting. Feel for all those young lives squandered away when the problem lies elsewhere.

    I felt terrible when the battle was described. It must have been a horrible feeling for the guys on topside.