Lesson From Wanat: Don't Rely on Tech


The final version of the OP Topside and COP Kahler -- aka Wanat -- ambush report has been completed and released. The 274 page report is chock full of great information and detailed accounts of the action and fallout of the attack which killed nine and wounded more than two dozen.

We've done a lot of coverage here at Defense Tech about this battle and some of its preliminary findings.

Wanat Final Report

The report's authors say sure, there could have been more drone passes and eyes in the sky making sure Talib fighters weren't snooping into the wire. But the outposts did have high rez thermal cameras, LRAS3 scopes and a "robust SIGINT" capability (Prophet?). But when you don't have boots on the ground or your OP is in a place where those things can't see, all the million dollar gadgets don't get you much.

In small unit actions involving defensive positions, choices made early in micro-environments may have large consequences. Observation Post Topside, while sited to see the distant bridges, the higher mountains, and the southeast ridge upon whose lower slopes it sat, had absolutely no capability to see into the ravine of the Wayskawdi Creek or indeed into the dead ground little more than 10 yards in front of it. Thus the LRAS3 emplaced at Topside could see far but not near thereby permitting a concealed approach to both Topside and the village buildings between Topside and the main COP.
It's like the old Vietcong tactic of getting inside the waistband -- can't mortar inside the wire. Some goes for observation. Your scopes can see far as hell, but if you can't see the positions just outside the wire, what good are they?
Full motion video and robust SIGINT are helpful but are not infallible panaceas even if available 24/7. Technological marvels like ITAS and LRAS3 marvelously extend our range of vision but cannot yet extend into dead ground 10 yards in our front. Eventually, technology often gives way to human factors: courage, fear, and fatigue to name but a few and we must rely upon what some have called "aggressive self rescue" by individual Soldiers to prevail. The engagement at Wanat is yet another example of that phenomenon.
And perhaps the most significant tactical finding is the report's assertion that unit leaders neglected foot patrols in favor of using that personnel to bolster local defensive positions at their peril.
Given the perceived need to co-locate with the population in a COIN-centric operation, Coalition forces must retain situational awareness beyond their perimeter. If true standoff distance cannot be obtained or is deemed counterproductive, some means to see beyond the next building periodically must be gained. At Wanat, regular patrolling was foregone in the interest of advancing the state of the defensive fortifications, a difficult but understandable choice. Given the particular physical layout of the Wanat position, however, more aggressive patrolling may have been the only means to gain the necessary situational awareness to deny the enemy an unimpeded and concealed approach to the COP.
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