National Press Club

Soldiers died at Afghanistan outpost after `reckless' mistakes, ABC's Tapper says

December 6, 2012 | By Gregory Page | Gregory.Page@usdoj.gov

When ABC White House Correspondent Jake Tapper learned 400 Taliban fighters killed eight U.S. soldiers at Outpost Keating in Afghanistan, he was celebrating the birth of his son in a U.S. hospital.

He said he remembers “holding his son,” listening to the news reports of the 2009 attack, and wondering why, as his family welcomed a new birth, “eight other sons were taken from the world.”

In a Dec. 5 discussion of his book, “The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,” Tapper told a National Press Club audience that he began writing the book after concluding a “shrinking pool” of military reporters had not answered the question of why these eight Americans had died.

Tapper said that, eventually, a U.S. Army investigation concluded Outpost Keating had no strategic or tactical value in 2009. However, the investigation didn't explain why a force of 53 men had been left 14 miles from the Pakistan border in such a vulnerable, highly exposed position.

Despite the proximity of hundreds of Taliban soldiers, the Army deployed 53 soldiers without on-base or easily accessible helicopter support in a mountainous area that could not be quickly reinforced by land.

Tapper said that, by depicting the courage and devotion of the 53 soldiers, he tried to teach both himself and others to “fully appreciate” the scale and scope of the “sacrifice of our soldiers” and their families.

After interviewing the surviving soldiers and their families and comparing their reactions to his own sense of danger after only eight days in the general area of the attack, Tapper said the families experienced a “daily dread” that their loved ones would be killed or maimed at Outpost Keating.

No single person is responsible for the eight avoidable deaths during this battle, Tapper said. Although the mistakes made before the battle were “rooted in the best intentions,” they were ultimately “reckless” because the U.S. Army did not deploy enough troops to support the 53 soldiers.

Helicopter support was difficult and dangerous because of the mountainous terrain, and because of a shortage of helicopters. Reinforcements that could have responded in time by road were unavailable because of decisions by political and military officials to not deploy sufficient troops in Afghanistan.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Outpost Keating is that eight soldiers died because “they didn’t get what they needed from the Secretary of Defense,” Tapper said.