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 findings demonstrate the increasing vulnerability of the Americans and their NATO allies, even as 37,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements pour into the country. U.S. troops increasingly partner with Afghan forces — often living in joint outposts that are thinly manned and more exposed than larger bases.
The readiness of Afghan forces to take over their own security so foreign troops can leave is a key component of President Barack Obama’s war strategy.
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 command did not identify those involved or specify any punitive measures, citing privacy laws.