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Brass mostly cleared in Wanat battle deaths

The Army's official history of the battle of Wanat - one of the most intensely scrutinized engagements of the Afghan war - largely absolves top commanders of the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers and instead blames the confusing and unpredictable nature of war.

The history of the July 2008 battle was almost two years in the making and triggered a roiling debate at all levels of the Army about whether midlevel and senior battlefield commanders should be held accountable for mistakes made under the extreme duress of combat.

An initial draft of the Wanat history, which was obtained by The Washington Post and other media outlets in the summer of 2009, placed the preponderance of blame for the losses on the higher-level battalion and brigade commanders who oversaw the mission, saying they failed to provide the proper resources to the unit in Wanat.

The final history, released in recent weeks, drops many of the earlier conclusions and instead focuses on failures of lower-level commanders.

The battle of Wanat, which took place in a mountain village near the Pakistan border, produced four investigations and sidetracked the careers of several Army officers, whose promotions were either put on hold or canceled. The 230-page Army history is likely to be the military's last word on the episode, and reflects a growing consensus within the ranks that the Army should be cautious in blaming battlefield commanders for failures in demanding wars such as the conflict in Afghanistan.

Family members of the deceased at Wanat reacted with anger and disappointment to the final Army history. "They blame the platoon-level leadership for all the mistakes at Wanat," said retired Col. David Brostrom, whose son was killed in the fighting. "It blames my dead son. They really missed the point."The findings in the early draft history of the battle and pressure from lawmakers, including Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), prompted Gen. David Petraeus, who was then the commander of U.S. Central Command, to order an investigation into Wanat.

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