By Kim Gamel Associated Press
KABUL — Most of the soldiers were still asleep when gunfire rang out and insurgents stormed their isolated hilltop base from all sides, killing eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers.
The Americans weren’t even supposed to be there. Combat Outpost Keating had been scheduled to be closed months before the Oct. 3 assault. A U.S. military investigation released Friday blamed lapses in oversight and a delay in closing the remote outpost for one of the heaviest American combat losses in a single engagement during the Afghan war.
The gunbattle broke out when an estimated 300 insurgents — five times the number of defenders — stormed the base with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and guns just before 6 a.m. in mountainous Nuristan province near the Pakistan border.
Afghan soldiers failed to hold their position on the eastern side of the compound and insurgents penetrated the outpost’s perimeter at three locations, according to the report.
The U.S. soldiers “heroically repelled a complex attack” after calling in air support, the report said. When the fighting was over, about 150 insurgents were dead, along with the eight Americans and three Afghan soldiers.
It marked the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a firefight since July 2008, when nine American soldiers were killed in a similar raid on an isolated outpost in Wanat in the same province.
The report recommended administrative actions “to address shortcomings in command oversight” that contributed to the attack and said U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander, has taken appropriate action regarding Army personnel involved.
The report did not elaborate other than to say commanders should continuously reassess the need for small and vulnerable combat outposts.
Combat Outpost Keating, which was surrounded by high ground, was originally established in 2006 as a base for a provincial reconstruction team.
But the soldiers’ mission had been reduced to defending themselves, eliminating any tactical or strategic value of holding the ground, the report said.
The base was supposed to be closed in July or August, but that was delayed after equipment and supplies needed to redeploy were diverted to support intense Afghan operations under way in another area.
The report added that the base also was deprived of other intelligence assets that were being used in the ongoing operation in Barg-e-Matal and the search for a missing U.S. soldier in the south.