The battle of Wanat took place on July 13, 2008, and is arguably the most noteworthy
battle in the Afghan conflict. The battle took place in Waigal district, in the Nuristan Province of
Afghanistan. This paper is a historical analysis of this Battle, with a particular analysis on how
both forces used the terrain. The terrain was effectively used by the enemy forces and, therefore,
the paper further looks at what clues the American forces could have used at their advantage.
The Wanat Battle: Analysis of the terrain
The Waigal Valley and particularly the location of the Wanat Vehicle Patrol Base (VPB)
was in sharp, rugged terrain. Therefore, location of any kind of combat outpost was dangerous to
the viewpoint of force protection. However, the decision to move Combat Outpost Bella to VPB
Wanat had been made about a year earlier (Tate, 2011). This was due to the productive human
terrain for counterinsurgency. The VPB at Wanat did definitely have concertina wire, HESCO
barriers, as well as other means of force protection. In contrast, the base was on the low ground
from every direction. One predominant fateful decision was the erection and garrisoning of an
Observation Post, to the East of VPB at Wanat, on a slightly higher ground (Smith, 2009).
Troops from VPB Wanat had observed men they supposed to be enemy soldiers preparing
and positioning for battle on July 12, 2008, just before the battle began (Smith, 2008). However,
consistent with a theme then, decision-making was not given latitude under such circumstances.
This was merely because there were no forces in the area to actively engage in opposition against
U.S. forces at the time. The Americans built there COB to close to a Town, and the setup of defensive
positions had too much dead space. There was an Observation Post (OP) on an elevation to the east
of the central COP Kahler position. Locating an OP on this ridge allowed visibility to the east of
the landscape. Otherwise, this would have been totally concealed. However, this left the place
open for any oncoming attack (Tate, 2011).
The attacking forces most likely comprised of a solid central element of trans-national
foreign fighters involving Taliban and Al Qaeda supporters; joined with Afghan-centrist
organizations such as HIG and Lashkar-e-Taiba that contain experienced, hard-core fighters from Afghanistan. These troops were most likely supported by several local fighters from Nuristan
energized by a July 4 th helicopter strike (Wiltrout, 2008).
Because of the geographical location and the soaring terrain surrounding Wanat, all the
field weaponry had to be fired at a high angle. The consequence is a relatively large feasible error
in the range. This provided the enemy forces with the outside arms and logistical assets needed to
launch an enormous attack. They had professional, experienced leadership that was familiar with
the population and terrain. It also had a core subject of not only trained and skilled, but
determined and committed combatants to lead the assault (Smith, 2009).
The local fighters who were familiar with the terrain around Wanat were capable of
transporting the required logistical assets. They were also able to lead the foreign fighters ahead
through the Waigal Valley terrain without being detected. It provided a lethal, gifted fighting
force. On the hand, with the challenging terrain densely covered by the precipitous valleys and
ridges, the Raven used by the Americans had to be prudently utilized due to cross variable drafts
and winds that severely inhibited the Raven’s utility. The extensive terrain of Waigal and the
Pech Valleys had also blocked radio signals, hindering communication (Tate, 2011).
It is evident that one key failure in force protection applied to intelligence. Multiple
villagers, as well as tribal elders, had informed several U.S. forces that a strike against VPB
Wanat was forthcoming (Smith, 2008). This was a clue the Americans could have utilized. However,
the supposition that such a strike would be worthwhile caused little apprehension among the
leaders. While U.S. troops had foreseen a relocation of enemy operation to Wanat, they did not
expect a heavy straight operation (Smith, 2008).