A military investigation of a Taliban attack last fall on a remote U.S. army outpost that left eight American soldiers dead and 22 wounded has resulted in administrative punishments for two commanders blamed for "inadequate measures taken by the chain of command."
During the day-long battle at Combat Outpost Keating last Oct. 3, the base was temporarily overrun by an estimated 300 Taliban fighters. They were eventually repelled from the small base through the actions of what the investigation's report said were the camp soldiers who "fought heroically" and counterattacks by Apache helicopters and attack jets.
"The investigation concluded that critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets which had been supporting COP Keating had been diverted to assist ongoing intense combat operations in other areas," the report said.
It also said the commanders had become "desensitized" to reports of imminent large scale attacks because previous warnings had turned out to be on a much smaller scale.
"Needed force protection improvements were not made because of the imminent closure of the outpost. These factors resulted in an attractive target for enemy fighters," the report concluded.
Defense officials confirm that two senior officers who oversaw the forces at COP Keating have received administrative punishments that could impact their careers. A press release issued by the NATO military command in Afghanistan said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, had taken "appropriate action" against the officers after reviewing the report.
One officer in Afghanistan who was familiar with the attack on COP Keating said he had mixed feelings about the criticism leveled against the camp's commanders.
"Reviewing and examining and improving are part of our process and when we do it from within, it is embraced," said the officer who asked not to be identified. "But it is very difficult for us when people who weren't there and weren't involved, question the decision of leadership in a fight, but sometimes it is also necessary."
Officers Have Been Disciplined for Battlefield Failures
The punishments reflect a recent trend in Afghanistan to hold military commanders accountable for battlefield failures. Defense officials confirm that three other Army officers face disciplinary action for their role in the attack on the military outpost in Wanat in July, 2008 that led to nine dead U.S. soldiers and 27 wounded.
An officer also received administrative punishment for his role in a delayed artillery response to an ambush last September on a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol that left four Marines and nine Afghans dead.
Such administrative punishments are seen as career-enders if they are made a part of a permanent personnel file.
Located near the border with Pakistan in the Afghan province of Nuristan, COP Keating was the scene of a coordinated attack by as many as 300 Taliban fighters who stormed the exposed base. The camp was defended by a combined force of 140 U.S. and Afghan soldiers.
The smaller U.S. force ultimately beat back the attack after a fierce hours-long battle where Apache helicopters, that raced to assist the besieged soldiers, made all the difference. The report said the heroic action of American and Afghan soldiers contributed to a "severe tactical defeat for the Taliban" that resulted in as many as 150 Taliban fighters being killed.
The U.S. evacuated the camp three days later. Military commanders had already decided to close the base the previous summer, but delayed doing so because of other operations. It was this delay that proved fatal to some of the troops stationed at COP Keating.
The report found that a "mindset of imminent closure" led the unit to not improve the outpost's defenses despite intelligence reports that warned of a possible attack by "a large enemy force."
The report concluded that it was the lack of adequate defenses that made Keating "an attractive target" for the Taliban. Located along a riverbank in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, the base was surrounded by steep mountains. The report said that there were as many as 47 attacks in the five months prior to the deadly assault, 10 in the 30 days prior to the mass attack.
In the wake of the attack, several soldiers based at COP Keating told ABC News that they did not know the attack was as large as it was because they received enemy fire with such frequency.
ABC News' Karen Russo contributed to this report