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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 30, 2010

Army may punish Wanat battle officers


By William Cole and Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writers

The results of a second investigation into the deadly battle at Wanat, Afghanistan, in 2008 could lead to action being taken against Army leaders involved in the operation that has come to symbolize the perils of underestimating enemy and terrain in the Southwest Asian nation.

Army Secretary John McHugh yesterday directed the commanding general of U.S. Army Forces Command to take action "as he deems appropriate with regard to Army personnel identified in the report within 90 days."

The investigation could lead to the punishment of up to three U.S. Army officers, said Agence France Presse, the French news service, in a report from Washington, quoting U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Some of the families of soldiers who died at Wanat accused Army leadership in Afghanistan of negligence and a coverup.

The Army statement yesterday follows the completion of a second investigation into the July 13, 2008, battle in eastern Afghanis-tan's Kunar province that resulted in the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers.

One of the casualties was 1st Lt. Jonathan Brostrom, 24, a graduate of Damien Memorial School and the University of Hawai'i.

The battle of Wanat was one of the deadliest for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Besides the nine soldiers who were killed, 27 were wounded when more than 200 Taliban fighters overwhelmed a remote mountain outpost that was not easily reinforced.

It took U.S. attack helicopters an hour to reach Wanat, according to an Army report. After the battle, the U.S. started to withdraw from the easily-attacked bases in Kunar and Nuristan provinces.

The battle was the focus of a series of stories in The Advertiser in November. The Washington Post and CBS News also did in-depth reports on Wanat.

The heavy toll suffered in Wanat led to an investigation into allegations of negligence at senior levels in the chain of command. The investigation was spurred largely by the persistence of Brostrom's father, retired Army Col. David Brostrom of 'Aiea, who became convinced the mission had been poorly planned and lacked support, and that commanders had ignored intelligence that warned of an impending attack.

Other parents who lost sons also added their concerns.

David Brostrom yesterday said he had not seen the new investigation, which was ordered by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. head of the Middle East region.

"The report is 4,000 pages and families were told that, 'You will be briefed after the (Forces Command) commander makes his decision, if there is any (court-martial) or administrative action that needs to be taken,' " Brostrom said.

Brostrom said with the length of the report, "Obviously they did a very detailed investigation into the battle before, during and after."

He had asked for a review after his son's higher command, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, reached the conclusion that leaders had done nothing wrong in sending the U.S. troops to Wanat.

Kurt Zwilling, who lost his son, Cpl. Gunnar Zwilling, in the battle, in 2009 sent a letter to the Pentagon's inspector general office seeking an investigation into four leaders he accused of negligence.

Those individuals were battalion commander Lt. Col. William Ostlund, brigade commander Col. Charles Preysler, Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, and Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schlosser.

Yesterday, McHugh, the Army secretary, announced that the new investigation had been completed.

"We remain in contact with the families of our fallen from this battle, and they will be invited to a comprehensive briefing on the investigation following (any personnel actions)," McHugh said.

The Army said it will defer public release of any further information on the battle until families have been briefed.

"We must be an Army that is committed to continuous self-assessment and improvement," McHugh said. "Analysis of this investigation's findings provides us the opportunity to better ensure we are doing everything possible to safeguard the lives and treasure entrusted to us while ensuring mission success."

To read more on the Wanat battle, see The Honolulu Advertiser's special report: "Bad Blood: The Ambush of Chosen Company in Afghanistan."