UPDATED 10:00pm, 22 Sept: The Tongan contingents deployed to Camp Bastion, one of the largest NATO bases in Afghanistan, are in hot water following a deadly attack by the Taliban that saw two US marines died and a destruction of eight Harrier jump jets worth US$200 million.
“Several watchtowers at Bastion were manned at the time, but the Tongan soldiers in those posts could not observe the area around the empty tower”, officials told Washington Post
“There was dead space,” one official said.
The Washington Post’s national editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran “confirmed that watchtowers were indeed left to Tongans”. He added that Tongan soldiers are “notorious at the base for sleeping on the job”.
Fifteen Taliban attackers managed to break through Camp Bastion’s perimeter in September 14, 2012 and quickly made their way to the US Marine Harrier flight line.
They disguised themselves as US soldiers and in quick succession, they fired rocket-propelled grenades at eight Harrier jump jets under canvas hangers, destroying six and damaging two.
After a six-hour firefight, the incursion was put down, ABC7 I-Team investigation report says.
Chandrasekaran says “Security patrols of the perimeter, which were conducted by the Marines … had been scaled back substantially in the months leading up to the attack”.
“Simply blaming the Tongans, however, is not accountability. U.S. staff decisions made it easier for the Taliban to reconnoitre the compound and then enter without resistance,” according to Chadrasekaran’s sources with direct knowledge of the incident.
ABC7 I-Team asked the military “Why were Tongan soldiers being used for perimeter security?”
The military responded, “it would be premature to comment on any findings, recommendations, or possible actions related” to the investigation of the attack.
Tonga Defense Service Brigadier ‘Uta’atu told Taimi Online the Tongan soldiers “not only participate in force protection and security around the Camp, but part of them provide quick reaction force if something happens inside the camp.”
He described what the Tongan troops are doing at the camp as “highly sensitive and very dangerous.”
A Taliban statement said the attack was made in retaliation for an American–made film insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Bastion camp was where Prince Harry served and Taliban said that was one of the reasons for their attack.
Tongan government has committed 275 of its soldiers over two years with an initial 55 soldiers in 2010 to Afghanistan.
A further three rotations of 55 marines sent to form part of the guard at the main British base, Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province where the attack by Taliban took place.
NOTE: An earlier version of this article said the Taliban entered the Bastion Camp on September 24, 2012. That was not correct. It was on September 14, 2012.
Featured image: Sgt Corrine Buxton/ UK MOD