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.
The U.S. has spent billions of dollars since 2001 training and equipping the Afghan army and police, and senior U.S. national security officials speak 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.”
As the chaos of combat enveloped the base, the Latvians said they saw three Afghan soldiers at the aid station waiting to be treated for minor scratches and cuts. An Afghan platoon sergeant was in a corner of the station, curled up in a fetal position, they told investigators.
Later, they opened a door to one of the buildings and found several other soldiers and Afghan security guards sitting on beds. None of them had weapons at the ready or made an aggressive move when the door swung open.
Protein drinks, digital cameras and other personal items that belonged to the Americans were found in the duffel bags of Afghan soldiers as they were being moved to another base on an Army helicopter after the battle had ended, investigators were told.
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. After the battle, they could account for 21; three had been killed. Fifteen were missing, they told the investigators.