The Battle of Wanat took place in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan in 2008. This Professional Military Education (PME) exercise is pertinent to junior officers as studying this battle can teach us a lot about what the future fight might look like: high casualties and no technological superiority.
In this instance, 2nd Platoon had limited or no reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition (RISTA) assets, or fire support because they were assigned on to other tasks, but in the future these assets could be absent because the adversary disarmed them or had air or fire superiority. The absence of such support is a real possibility in future wars. This platoon was rendered combat ineffective and was almost ‘doctrinally destroyed’; this may be the norm in high-intensity warfare. There are a plethora of articles and videos available online which unpack what happened at the Battle of Wanat, of which this activity has selected two:
- Begin by watching a CNN media summary on What really happened in Wanat to get a quick overview of the events.
- Then read the prescribed parts of the United States Army Combat Studies Institute (CSI) report entitled Wanat – Combat Action in Afghanistan, 2008.
- Pages 212-223 and the following sub-headings: The Delays in Construction of COP Kaler; and The Timing of Operation ROCK MOVE: The Relief by Taskforce Duke, and Defensive Positioning.
- Pages 228-233 and the following sub-headings: Casualties at Wanat; and Closing Thoughts.
Note: The complete CSI paper is long and worthwhile reading as it has the best breakdown of the tactical considerations/errors suited to junior officers.
Facilitator's Notes (PDF) for this PME exercise.
- What is the cultural and organisational impact of fighting decades of small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? How do we prepare our soldiers for a type of conflict of which there is no lived experience of within the ADF?
- How could Chosen Company have better mitigated the risks to their sub-unit?
- What might the Battle of Wanat have looked like if both forces had air parity or where the adversary had air superiority?
- What do you do as a commander when you get a ‘suicide mission’ as described by the Chosen Company’s non-commissioned officers? Discuss the morale of the Chosen Company soldiers. As a commander, can you ever say no to a mission? How do you manage subordinates who say no?
- How do we find a balance between combined arms training and learning not to be dependent on external assets? This platoon had to fight without additional assets or support.
- Tactically, was the Observation Post Topside in the right location?
- Was the investigation process healthy? Lessons are learned through such processes, but is hindsight the right perspective to draw these lessons?
- Could the Afghanistan National Security Forces been used to more effect, either before or during the operations? How do we improve our relationships with our partners and use them to their best potential?
- How worried would you have been about the Wanat operation? Would you say there was a stage of the operation where it became unviable and should have been withdrawn?
- What planning would you have conducted at Platoon level before the operation, and how would you have briefed the detail?
Why not leave a comment below to share some of your key takeaways from this PME activity with the rest of the force?
Note: This PME exercise modifies an original publication made to the Cove The Battle of Wanat (9 US KIA, 27 US WIA), Afghanistan.
Try this podcast entitled The story of the Battle of Wanat created by the Modern War Institute with SSG (ret) Ryan Pitt, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Wanat. Listen to him discuss elements related to the reasoning behind their Surveillance and Target Acquisition Plan, intensity of fire, dealing with casualties and cross-training and leadership.
WANT EVEN MORE?
Watch the Battle of Wanat Video Recreation.
Read the following Articles:
- 10 Years On: Army Leaders Should Look to this Battle to Prepare for Brutal Fights in the Future
- Three Officers Face Reprimands Over 2008 Battle
- Army Overturns Reprimands of 3 Wanat Officers
If you enjoyed this activity, why not try the other PMEs available on The Cove?
Want more material for your junior officers? This article collates articles from across The Cove designed for junior officers and Troop/Platoon Commanders.
If you have suggestions for improvements – additional readings, reference material, alternative discussion points or new delivery methods – please forward your feedback to The Cove Team firstname.lastname@example.org.