Monday, August 4, 2008

Downside of the Petraeus Strategy

They did not save the small American combat outpost at the village of Wanat in the Weygal valley. Two days after it was built, just after the 4.15am call to prayer on July 13th, intense gunfire streaked into the base from the village. Insurgents breached the defences. In fierce fighting, nine American soldiers were killed, more than in any single battle since 2005. Another 15 Americans and four Afghans were injured, out of a garrison of 45 Americans and 25 Afghans. The attackers were beaten back, and reportedly also took heavy casualties. But the “temporary” outpost has since been abandoned to the Taliban.

Such tiny combat outposts are an innovation of the past couple of years. They are designed to put American troops—sometimes just a few dozen—among the populace, usually alongside Afghan forces. The aim is to extend American influence outward from larger bases, which can provide artillery support. However, they are vulnerable to surprise attacks. At Wanat the defences had barely been finished, and the insurgents brought in several hundred fighters—a rogues’ gallery, say local officials, of Taliban, al-Qaeda and others.

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