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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wanat triggered spy deals

 •  State to honor 28 troops who paid ultimate price

By William Cole

The 2008 Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, during which nine U.S. soldiers were killed, including 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom of 'Aiea, reportedly has led to letters of reprimand for three commanders involved.

A separate and almost unbelievable outcome from the battle now being reported is part John le Carr spy novel and part Iran-Contra affair funding scam.

The New York Times reported last week that millions in government money intended to fund a civilian effort to better educate U.S. military commanders on Afghanistan's complex social landscape were funneled instead to intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.

The man behind the reputed plot, Defense Department official Michael Furlong, hired intelligence-gathering firms run by former special operations officers to collect information, including video used in an American airstrike in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan, according to the Times.

The reporting suggests Furlong ran an off-the-books spy operation.

So what's the connection to Wanat?

In a follow-up, the San Antonio Express-News interviewed Furlong, who denied diverting funding and said military supervisors approved the information collection.

Furlong said the program grew out of the Battle of Wanat, in which a relatively small U.S. contingent was surprised by a much larger attacking force of about 200 militants in the mountains of eastern Kunar province.

In addition to the nine American soldiers who were killed, 27 were wounded in one of the deadliest firefights of the Afghanistan war. Brostrom, 24, a Damien Memorial and University of Hawai'i graduate, was the platoon commander on the ground.

Army Gen. David McKiernan, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was "fit to be tied" about Wanat, according to the Express-News.

Furlong is quoted as having a conversation with McKiernan during which McKiernan said, "I need to know what's going on outside the wire (meaning outside U.S. bases). How can this surprise attack (at Wanat) happen to us?"

The newspaper said Furlong, who then was working as a strategist for U.S. Central Command, was asked to provide a commercial information service that would improve U.S. understanding of the Afghanistan environment.

Initially, former journalists were hired to provide "ground truth," but the Express-News said funding and responsibility for the information gathering shifted to the firms run by former special operations officers.

The New York Times said Furlong's network raises questions about hiring contractors to act as spies.