source GAIA package: Sx_MilitaryTimes_M6201010006250314_5675.zip Origin key: Sx_MilitaryTimes_M6201010006250314 imported at Fri Jan 8 18:18:03 2016
Three officers given letters of reprimand for the deadly July 13, 2008, battle in Wanat, Afghanistan, have been exonerated and the letters withdrawn, the Army announced Wednesday.
Gen. Charles Campbell, who recently relinquished command of Forces Command and is preparing to retire, "withdrew, cancelled and annulled" the adverse administrative actions after reviewing findings from a Central Command-directed investigation and hearing from the three officers themselves.
Campbell also reaffirmed findings in the CENTCOM report that the two general officers in the chain of command — Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, former commander of the 101st Airborne Division, and Brig. Gen. Mark Milley, former deputy commander of operations for the 101st — were not negligent and "their decisions and actions were reasonable and proper under the circumstances."
Army officials have not named the three officers originally cited to be disciplined in the CENTCOM review, but news reports have identified them as the company, battalion and brigade commanders for C Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Col. Charles Preysler, who is now assigned to the Pentagon, was the commander of the 173rd at the time of the battle. Col. William Ostlund, now deputy commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, was the battalion commander at the time, and Capt. Matthew Myer was the company commander. Early last year Myer received a Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor, for his actions in the battle. He is now assigned to the 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
On July 13, 2008, 45 U.S. troops, accompanied by 24 Afghan soldiers, were attacked in Afghanistan's rugged Waygul Valley by more than 200 enemy fighters. Nine paratroopers were killed and 27 wounded. It remains the single deadliest attack against U.S. forces since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, apart from incidents involving helicopter crashes.
"In every review and study conducted to date, the courage, valor and discipline of the soldiers who fought at Wanat have been universally praised," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said in a statement released Wednesday, the same day the soldiers' families were briefed at Fort McPherson, Ga., on Campbell's findings.
The families were briefed for more than four hours by Campbell and Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Natonski, who led the CENTCOM investigation.
"These soldiers were well trained, well led and fought bravely to defeat a determined and intense enemy action to overrun their base in Wanat," Casey said. "They persevered in a fashion that deserves broad recognition of their bravery and tenacity. Our hearts go out to the families of the fallen soldiers."
Army Secretary John McHugh also commended the soldiers for their courage.
"We can never alleviate the suffering felt by the families and friends of the incredibly brave soldiers who were killed and injured during this battle, or adequately express our sympathy for their loss," McHugh said in a statement. "We remain grateful for and humbled by their extraordinary courage and valor."
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who along with family members of the soldiers killed in Wanat, had called for CENTCOM to further investigate the battle "after allegations of negligence at senior levels in the chain of command" were brought to his attention.
On Wednesday, Webb released a statement in response to Campbell's findings.
"CENTCOM conducted an intensive, three-month independent investigation which concluded that the company, battalion and brigade commanders were 'derelict in the performance of their duties through neglect or culpable inefficiency.' … As a result of these findings, the Army issued letters of reprimand to all three officers," he said. "However, the Army also conducted its own review of the independent investigation, resulting in the annulment of all three letters of reprimand. I find it deeply troubling that the Army has exonerated these officers and in the process rejected the findings of the independent review. This development raises concerns regarding the principle of command accountability in the Army."