Richard Engel's 'Mission': Support One Father's Quest For Answers In Afghanistan

06/23/2010 03:32 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While recent news coverage has centered around the disaster in the Gulf, Richard Engel, NBC's Chief Foreign Correspondent, is hoping to remind viewers of the violence that continues to ravage Afghanistan — now the center of the longest United States war in history.

Speaking to HuffPost by phone from Afghanistan last week, Engel said he feels it is his "responsibility to keep this story on the front burner."

On Sunday's edition of NBC's "Dateline," Engel will air his special, "Dateline: A Father's Mission" (7-8 PM ET).

"Mission" tells the story of the Battle of Wanat, a gruesome July 2008 Taliban ambush on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. During the battle, upwards of 300 Taliban militants ambushed an American outpost and infiltrated the base, killing 9 American soldiers. Engel's special chronicles the quest of one fallen soldier's father, a former colonel himself, to investigate why the battle went so horribly wrong for the U.S.

Engel called the tragedy at Wanat a "major...under-reported turning point in the war," and said it caused commanders to reevaluate their strategy in the region.

The trouble started for the Americans, Engel said, when small numbers of U.S. troops were ordered to set up a new supply outpost for the next wave of troops. The outpost was located in an isolated valley surrounded by mountains, making the soldiers an easy target. The mission, Engel said, "was left right until the end of a 15-month deployment," at a point where soldiers' and commanders' "minds weren't in the game."

Engel said this sense of burnout led to a "series of breakdowns in command structure," leaving the soon-to-be-defeated soldiers under-equipped and in need of basic supplies, such as food and water.

"They were hung out to dry," Engel said. "The mission was doomed from the start."

"Mission" focuses on how one father's "quest for accountability" forced military officials to examine what went wrong at Wanat, and how to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Engel's interviews with the families and comrades of the killed soldiers make up a significant portion of the documentary.

"The families have been very supportive [of 'Mission']," Engel said. "They want this story told. They want answers."

Engel also spoke about how the escalating violence in Afghanistan — which has led to a spike in both military and civilian casualties — has affected his ability to cover the region. He said that he has been forced to "embed," or rely on military support, to be able to report on areas in Eastern and Southern Afghanistan which have become too dangerous to cover independently.

"When things get really bad, to get to dangerous areas, you do embeds more," he said. "In the past, we could have just gotten in the car and gone ourselves."

Even as things have become more dangerous, coverage of the war has dipped. Asked if he is frustrated by the relative lack of attention to the war, Engel said he does not focus on how much coverage the story receives.

"We've lost 5,500 people [in Iraq and Afghanistan], spent over a trillion dollars, tens of thousands injured," he said. "It's really important to be here and tell these stories."

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"Dateline: A Father's Mission" airs Sunday June 27 on NBC from 7-8 PM ET.