Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wishful thinking?

There's a squalid little article in the Guardian today by Robert Fox, which takes as its starting point the following assertion:
Military intelligence said allies would crush the Taliban thanks to our superior firepower. So how are the Afghan rebels routing US forces?
Routing? That's a pretty serious term to use, meaning as it does utter and humiliating defeat. So, how does Fox back it up?
This week we have the news that a well-coordinated Taliban attack by nearly succeeded in wresting the US forces' outpost at Wanat in Nuristan province from its defenders. The Taliban attacked in strength with rockets, mortars and machine guns from several directions. They breached the perimeter of the outpost and it was some hours, apparently, before they were driven off leaving nine American soldiers and dozens of their own killed and wounded...they have abandoned their outpost and the Taliban have now occupied Wanat village.
Well, first things first. Nearly succeeded is the same thing as didn't succeed. To say that an unsuccessful attack, that left "dozens" of Taliban casualties, compared to nine American casualties, is a 'rout' of the Americans is just plain wrong. And as for the abandonment of the camp, a further look at the details of the attack put things in a rather different light as well.
The base was occupied by 45 US soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division and 25 Afghan soldiers. It was only two days old when it came under fierce bombardment on Sunday morning. Taleban fighters successfully breached the outer defences and were prevented from overrunning the base only after fierce hand-to-hand fighting
Just over half of the US garrison was killed or injured in the battle, with 9 US dead and 15 injured; a further 4 Afghan troops were also injured.

Afghan officials reported that the area was occupied by Taleban fighters after the US withdrawal. Privately, Western military sources told The Times that the Wanat Combat Outpost was poorly sited and overlooked on three sides by buildings in the village, which Taleban fighters from a force estimated to be around 200 strong were able to use as firing points.
So, a badly located camp was abandoned - no bad thing really. And 45 US troops fought off 200 Taliban. And this is a rout how exactly?

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