10 Years After Wanat: Lessons for Future Combat

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July 16, 2018 | Originally published by Date Line: July 16 on

Army leaders should look to this battle to prepare for brutal fights in the future.

The attack began with a single burst of machine gun fire, followed by a score of rocket-propelled grenades. For the next 90 minutes, a platoon of U.S. soldiers and a handful of reinforcements would fight off a wave of more than 100 Taliban fighters.

A decade ago, the men of Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade came under attack near the end of a brutal and demanding deployment in the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan.

When the guns finally went silent at Wanat, nine U.S. soldiers had been killed, 27 were wounded, and at least dozens of Taliban fighters lay dead. The fight and the preceding deployment resulted in the battalion being the most decorated to date in the Global War on Terror.

In the years since the July 13, 2008, battle has seeped into Army DNA as scores of young officers and NCOs are taught the lessons learned from a simultaneously tragic and triumphant up-close battle in a remote outpost. The Battle of Wanat is the most requested virtual staff ride by ROTC units, and it has been part of the core curriculum for students at West Point and Command and General Staff College.

Some of the advantages of U.S. military might — persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, resilient communications and overwhelming air superiority — were negated in Wanat. Those factors came into play due to the unforgiving terrain and a lack of higher-level resources for a war that, at the time, had faded from American view as the fight in Iraq intensified.

That brought the fight down to more of an even playing field as Taliban fighters took advantage of and exploited some of their own strengths to hit the soldiers in a more sophisticated, large-scale attack that troops rarely saw in that theater.