Tongan soldiers serving in Afghanistan have been criticized in US media reports this week, following a US military investigation into security failures at Camp Bastion during an attack by Taliban insurgents last year.
The criticisms appear in reports of the sacking of two US generals for failing to secure the military base in southwestern Afghanistan after it was penetrated by 15 Taliban fighters last year. The September 14-15, 2012 attack resulted in the deaths of two Marines and the destruction of $200 million worth of aircrafts, including six Harrier fighter jets.
Reduced personnel numbers and judgment error was blamed for the security failure. On the night of the attack, according to media reports, a watchtower closest to the Taliban breach was left unmanned by Tongan soldiers assigned to it.
An American newspaper The Washington Post reported yesterday that “the Tongans left unmanned the watchtower nearest to the Taliban breach, according to an investigation by the U.S. Central Command” and that “British commanders had assigned the task of manning the towers to troops from Tonga.”
The September 14-15 night attack on Camp Bastion occurred at the same time Marines were being drastically drawn down from southern Afghanistan.
The Taliban raid of September 14, 2012 has been stated as America’s most devastating loss of U.S airpower since the Vietnam War.
Other news media, the Business Insider Australia, National Review Online and U-T San Diego, have in the last day reported that Tongan soldiers serving in Afghanistan have a reputation for “sleeping on the Job”.
Business Insider Australia reported yesterday that the “Security for the part of the base the Taliban attacked fell to a small team of forces from the Pacific nation of Tonga who were notorious for falling asleep on post.”
The news website U-T San Diego reported “amid the drawdown of forces, security cutbacks had caused guard towers to be manned in some cases by nothing more than target dummies or poorly-trained Tongan troops who frequently fell asleep on the job, several senior military sources told U-T San Diego.”
The 55 Tongan soliders who were serving in Camp Bastion during the raid were part of Tonga’s 4th contingent to Afghanistan. They returned to Tonga in November 2012, and were replaced by the 5th Contingent.
Today in Nuku‘alofa, Captain Toni Fonokalafi, the Acting Commander of the Tongan armed forces, said he was the commander of the 5th Contingent to Afghanistan, who arrived in the United Kingdom for training on the same day as the September 2012 attack on Camp Bastion. They were preparing to relieve Tonga's 4th Contingent at Camp Bastion.
He said he had not seen the final report of the US military investigation into the attack, although there was an earlier report that he had read blaming the British and the Tongans.
“There was an acceptance that at the time of the attack there was complacency with security in the area.
“There were two towers, one was manned by the Tongans and the other was vacated, although during the day Tongan soldiers would go over and show that there were security officers at that tower.
“The intruders, however, got into the camp between the two towers,” he said.
Capt. Fonokalafi described the terrain as “high in areas.” He said the ground was flattened following the incident.
Tonga's Brigadier General Tau‘aika ‘Uta‘atu is currently overseas and was not available for comment.