WASHINGTON — As one of the deadliest battles of the war in Afghanistan raged, Afghan soldiers ran, hid and even stole personal items from the American troops fighting and dying at a remote outpost.
When the Oct. 3, 2009, firefight at Combat Outpost Keating ended, eight U.S. soldiers were dead and 22 more were wounded. A military investigation released Friday said the 53 Americans at Keating fought heroically, repelling hundreds of insurgents, but the investigation also faulted U.S. ground commanders for leaving American troops in a vulnerable position.
The United States has spent billions of dollars since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan army and police, and senior U.S. national security officials speak optimistically of progress.
But firsthand accounts from the battle at Keating, detailed in witness statements included in the investigation, provide a different, highly critical view.
One of the harshest came from two Latvian soldiers stationed at Keating and responsible for mentoring the three dozen Afghan troops at the base in mountainous Nuristan province near the Pakistan border. In interviews conducted after the attack, the Latvians told the U.S. investigators that the Afghan soldiers lacked "discipline, motivation and initiative."
A 19-page summary of the investigation's findings said there were 20 Afghan soldiers at Keating when the attack occurred. But the Latvians, who worked closely with the Afghans, said there were 36. They said three were killed.
The inquiry was led by Army Gen. Guy Swan, who said U.S. ground commanders had left the troops at Keating in a vulnerable position. He recommended giving a captain, a major, a lieutenant colonel and a colonel letters of admonition or reprimand. A reprimand is more serious than an admonition.
Soldier killed: NATO said an international coalition service member died in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan. NATO gave no other details about the crash or the casualty.