ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The U.S. Army's official history of a battle in Afghanistan has evidently undergone some revision after a heated debate over who was responsible for nine American deaths.
The Washington Post reports today on Army's history of the Battle of Wanat in July 2008. Reporter Greg Jaffe saw an early draft of that history in the summer of 2009, and he reports that it is markedly different from the final version that was released late this year.
Greg Jaffe joins us now. And tell us, how does the Army's official history of this encounter differ from the draft of that history a year ago?
Mr. GREG JAFFE (Reporter, The Washington Post): Well, the first - the initial draft put heavy blame for the casualties on the battalion and brigade commander, and to a certain extent, the division commander as well. So these are relatively senior officers and really found them at fault for poor planning and poor execution.
The final draft, or the final version, is much more forgiving of them. It basically says, look, combat is difficult, there's uncertainty, there are casualties, bad things happen and these good commanders had a bad day.
SIEGEL: Now, before telling us what happened between these two drafts, first, how significant was this particular battle of Wanat?
JAFFE: Well, it's significant for a couple of reasons. One is there are heavy casualties, nine U.S. deaths, which is among the deadliest, if not the deadliest, of the war. The other reason that kind of looms in people's minds is 'cause it happened in July 2008 and it really is a major kind of wake-up call that, whoa, this war in Afghanistan is not going well and things are starting to fall apart. And it's the first really kind of big wake-up call that sort of resounds in the Pentagon.
SIEGEL: Okay. So about a year after the battle, there was an investigation. There was a draft history of what happened. Who did that investigation and what was the reaction to it?
JAFFE: Well, after the draft history - the draft history prompts an investigation. It's ordered by General Petraeus, who is then the CENTCOM commander. The investigation's done by a marine corps three-star general, who finds fault with the company and battalion commander. General Petraeus read the investigation and decided that based on army doctrine the brigade commander one level higher up should also receive a letter of reprimand. So he recommended to the army that the company, battalion and brigade commanders all receive letters of reprimand for Wanat.
SIEGEL: And there was criticism of that.
JAFFE: Yes. Petraeus could only recommend that the letters of reprimand be issued. Ultimately, it was the army and the Pentagon's decision whether to issue them. And that decision fell to a four-star general named General Charles Campbell, who is now retired. And he decided not to - to essentially revoke those letters of reprimand after the three officers appealed.
And the criticism was, look, combat's complicated. People make split-second decisions when they're tired, have a lot of things on their plate. People make mistakes and we can't afford to sort of litigate every little battle and punish officers for every little mistake.
SIEGEL: One factor that's at work here, of course, is it's a very long war in Afghanistan and so, by the time that a final history is approved, the war is still under way.
JAFFE: Yeah. It's interesting, too. Wanat is off a place called the Pesh Valley, which is a valley where we've been since 2006 and where U.S. troops are still engaged in very heavy fighting. And there's another debate going on right now within the army about whether it's time to abandon the Pesh Valley or not.
SIEGEL: And what's the reaction from family of the soldiers who died at Wanat to news of this final report?
JAFFE: You know, I think they're upset. Colonel Brostrom, who's the retired Army colonel who is pushing for this investigation, is probably the most upset. For him, this wasn't about reprimanding officers, it's about the Army sort of admitting mistakes and learning from them. And I think he feels like we've kind of returned to square one and then sort of that the lessons that this battle haven't been learned, internalized, et cetera.
SIEGEL: Greg Jaffe, just to clarify here, a reprimand wouldn't be the same as removal from command, would it be?
JAFFE: No. I mean, a letter of reprimand is essentially a letter saying, we think you didn't do a good job. What its significance is - because if you have one of these letters of reprimand in your file, it essentially prevents you from getting promoted again. So all of these guys have rotated out of command. They are all in non-command jobs now. But a letter of reprimand would essentially end their career at their current rank.
SIEGEL: Well, thanks for talking with us about your story today.
JAFFE: Yeah, thank you.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post.
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