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Tongan soldiers criticized after Taliban raid

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

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.”

Tongan soldiers

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.


It is a sad day for His Majesty's Army and the whole kingdom that ... has marred otherwise outstanding tours of duty by the other 4 past contingents to Afghanistan. There is the reported unique case of a Tongan Sergeant Major from the 5th Contingent being singled out by the US Command in Afghanistan in recognition of outstanding performance. He and his fellow personnel from the 5th Contingent deserve public acknowledgement.

Following this sad news however, there should be a Tongan independent inquiry into the allegations against the 4th Contingent and call responsible personnel to account. It may turn out to be the required overhaul of HM Army's duty selection and ranking processes ... The implied "faikava" complacency must be seriously addressed.

Asleep on the job is a stigma that will remain with His Majesty's Armed Forces unless our commanding officers show the courage to fully own up and face the consequences. Then and only then will they remove the stigma that is now attached not only to themselves and the men they command but is more likely to affect all Tongans serving in armed forces everywhere. So far, two US generals have paid a price for their part in this incident. Lives were lost and over 100 million dollars went up in smoke. The public response from our men in command has been less than exemplary given the very public accusation that our men are known for being asleep on the job. The only way to erase this stigma is to own up to it, provide a fix and assure our partners and any future recruits through our actions that we're leaving this stigma behind. Silence or running from the issue is neither courageous nor is it good management practice when the reputation of His Majesty and the country is at stake.
Sefita Hao'uli
New Zealand

'Oku mo'oni pe kau leka ia he 'oku 'ikai ke mahu'ingamalie kia nautolu 'a e 'uhinga 'oku 'ave ai kinautolu ki Afghanistan. 'Oku taha pe 'a e tefito'i me'a mahu'inga 'oku te mohe ai 'i he fai hoto fatongia. Ko 'ete ta'eloto kiai. Neongo 'ete fiemohea lahi, ka 'oku te loto kiai, he 'ikai pe tete mohe kita 'i he fai hoto fatongia. 'Oku fu'u 'over committed' 'a Tonga ki he tau 'i Afghanistan, ka 'oku 'ikai ha kovi ia 'a e fonua koia ki Tonga. 'Oku mahu'inga ange ki Pilitania, USA, Australia, NZ etc 'a e langa faka'ekonomika ki Tonga, 'o 'ikai ko e 'ave 'etau fanau ki he mala'etau ke tauhele 'grants'. 'Oku totonu ke ofe'i 'a e ngaahi fokotu'utu'u 'a e Pule'anga kiha ngaahi polokalama mei muli 'e lava ke ako'i ai 'a e tefito'i mo'ui 'a e fanau ke fai ha fa'ahinga ngaue ke ma'u ai ha'anau mo'ui, tauhi'aki famili, pea mo lelei ai 'a e ekonomika 'o e fonua. Ka 'oku 'ikai ko e ako'i e fanau ki he mala'etau ke nau o 'o mohe ai. SAIA.