Outnumbered Paratrooper Scouts Take on Taliban
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Here's an amazing story that you may not see in the Main Stream Media. I'll post the whole article in case it is not archived:
Paratroopers deal blow to Taliban in remote valley
By Pfc. Jon H. Arguello
May 10, 2005
QALAT, Afghanistan (Army News Service, May 9, 2005) – Paratroopers engaged a Taliban force last week in a remote valley of southeastern Afghanistan after an outnumbered scout patrol held out for 2.5 hours against heavy insurgent attack.
The May 3 battle in the Arghandab Valley, about 175 miles northeast of Kandahar, was part of the Coalition’s spring offensive, dubbed “Operation Determined Resolve,” with the aim of denying sanctuary to insurgents in preparation for fall elections, said a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force 76.
Initial reports indicate about 20 insurgents were killed and one wounded in the battle.
One Afghan National Police officer was killed and five wounded, and six U.S. service members were wounded...
Intel leads scouts into deep valley
The battle took shape after scouts in the Zabul Province received intelligence reports that insurgent forces happened to be in the same area. A group of seven scouts from the 2/503rd Infantry and 14 Afghan National Police headed toward the suspected location.
“We had been working with local police,” said Staff Sgt. Patrick Brannon, scout squad leader from Jacksonville, Ill. “Some of the information we had received led us to 18,000 DshKa heavy machine gun rounds, so we new their information was legitimate.”
Further intelligence reports placed 80 – 150 Taliban operating in the area.
“We were informed that the Taliban were threatening the people for cooperating with Coalition forces,” said Brannon.
“We moved east through a valley,” said Spc. Joseph Leatham, from El Mirage, Ariz., describing the movement toward the Taliban position. “We were surrounded by walls – steep cliffs. It was a very uncomfortable feeling.”
Afghan man complains of beating
Ten minutes into the trip, an Afghan man approached the convoy. The man had been recently released by the Taliban after having been beaten and threatened with execution for cooperation with Coalition forces.
“The guy said he was about to be executed and that there were about 30 Taliban in the area,” said Sgt. Nick Pak from Tampa, Fla. “He had a note around his neck threatening the people and demanding that there be no schools.”
While explaining what had happened, two Taliban members were spotted and identified by the man. Once confirmed as Taliban, the Afghan National Police opened fire. Almost simultaneously, the convoy began receiving small arms fire from multiple directions.
The scouts received approval to engage the enemy and sent a sniper team to an over-watch position.
Outnumbered scouts return fierce fire
“As soon as we got to the top, we got RPG and small arms fire,”said Spc. Nicholas Conlon, a scout sniper from Bridgewater, Mass.
“Pieces of rocks were breaking off all around us,” added sniper team leader Sgt. Derek Huss, from Deer Park, Wash. “One [RPG] hit real close.”
At this point, all the scouts were engaged in a heavy exchange of fire.
The scouts attempted to seal off the objective so the enemy could not escape. The fierce exchange was ordered to continue so that reinforcements could trap the Taliban and eliminate them. The outnumbered scouts engaged and re-engaged the insurgent forces three times before reinforcement from friendly forces could arrive.
Gunner keeps firing from burning Humvee
“The enemy was trying to overrun our truck, so we broke contact,” said Brannon.
As the Scouts tried to maneuver into a better position, one of the Humvees took several rocket-propelled grenade hits and burst into flames.
“I yelled ‘You’re on fire! You’re on Fire!’ to the other truck,” said Pak.
The truck’s gunner continued to fire his .50-cal machine gun as the Humvee was engulfed in flames.
“The truck was on fire but Leatham was still rocking the .50-cal,” said Pak.
“The truck started rolling backwards,” said Leatham. “I was still shooting and Sergeant Huss was trying to stop the truck. Sergeant Brannon was providing cover fire so I could get out of the vehicle.”
Helicopter attempts to land reinforcements
“We were pinned down pretty bad,” said Sgt. Michael Ortiz, the assigned medic from Denver. “At that point, Chosen Company tried to land but they couldn’t.”
“I laid down suppressive fire with the Mk-19 so the bird could land,” said Pfc. Nathan Reilly, from Greensburg, Pa. “The landing zone was really hot and they couldn’t land.”
As much as the scouts laid down cover fire the landing zone was taking too much fire for the reinforcements to land. The scouts, who had been engaged in the firefight for more than two and a half hours, watched as the CH-47 Chinook aborted the landing and flew away.
“You can’t imagine how scary it is to be in a fire fight like this and after two and a half hours of fighting, to see the support leave,” Ortiz said.
Paratroopers land in hot LZ
“The scouts were in contact and at that point we were a QRF,” said 1st Lt. Les Craig from Erie, Pa., and platoon leader of 1st Platoon, or the “Bullies” as they are called by Chosen Company.
Chosen Company is part of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry (Airborne), who were operating in the area. The 2-503rd was part of the Southern European Task Force originally based in Vicenza, Italy, and now part of CJTF-76 in Afghanistan.
“We got reports that the landing zone was hot while we were in the air,” said Craig. “The other friendly forces that had landed were already in contact.”
The helicopter finally was able to land and 1st Platoon’s “Bullies” poured from the Chinook ready to relieve the embattled scouts.
Although 1st Platoon didn’t receive any immediate fire, suspicious activity was all around.
“I was trying to get a feel of where our Soldiers were,” said Craig.
“We knew there were bad guys but we didn’t know where they were,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Cavataio, the Bullies’ platoon sergeant from Chicago. “We set up security and started pushing up.”
Taliban takes cover in village
Soon after setting up an over-watch position, insurgent forces were spotted.
“When we got clearance and confirmation that they had weapons, we opened fire, but they opened up on us at the same time and the exchange started,” Cavataio said.
The plan was to systematically clear one of the nearby villages of danger, explained Craig.
“From the south part of the town, we began clearing the village from east to west,” said Craig. “There were high walls and locked doors everywhere.”
The Taliban had sealed the village to make it difficult for Coalition Forces to clear by barricading and locking all doors and gates. The platoon had to make use of sappers to get through the mud hut maze.
The platoon, left with little choice, bypassed clearing the hamlet and pushed through to the edge of the village into an orchard.
Platoon takes RPG, machine-gun fire
Craig’s Soldiers received a volley of rocket propelled grenades wounding Pfc. Mathew King in the leg.
“The round didn’t explode,” said Craig. “The fins cut into his leg and the round landed ten to fifteen feet in front of me and the RTO (Soldier carrying the radio).”
Craig and his men continued to move forward through withering machine gun fire seeking cover behind trees and rocks.
“I thought, ‘the only way we will get through this is if we push forward,’” said Craig. “It was raining branches in the orchard. My RTO tried to move forward and when he got up, a tree basically fell on him.”
The paratroopers were pinned down until a machine gunner put down enough suppressive fire for the Soldiers to move forward toward the enemy.
“Specialist Lewis fired a 200-round burst and that bought us a couple of seconds to bum rush the objective,” Craig said. “We approached the enemy but we thought all the guys were already engaged because no one was responding.”
Creek bed enables surprise approach
The element closed in on the enemy undetected, moving parallel to a sunken creek with steep rocky slopes.
As the team moved past the bunker to make a limit of advance, Capt. Dirk Riggenberg, Chosen Company’s commander, moved into Choay’s old position between the wall and the bunker. Chosen’s commander received fire from a well-concealed position along the creek wall.
An alert M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner moved to into position and ended the fight.
By the end of the battle, more than 17 enemy combatants had been confirmed killed by Chosen Company, nine captured and more possibly killed by the 2-503rd scouts.
Enemy ferocity surprised some
“I expected there to be stiff resistance but not as severe as this,” said Riggenberg.
Chosen Company’s first sergeant, though, said he wasn’t surprised by the enemies’ dedication.
“They’ve been fighting for so many years,” said 1st Sgt. Scott Brzak. “They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
The effect the battle has had on his Soldiers is a positive one, said Brzak.
“The Soldiers now know that they can depend on and trust the buddy to the left and right of them,” Brzak said. “They know their buddy will lay down their life for them. They also now know how the enemy operates and can pass this experience on to the rest of the company and the battalion.”
After-action report positive
All wounded ANP and U.S. Soldiers were evacuated to Kandahar Airfield for medical treatment. They were reported in stable condition. Two U.S. wounded Soldiers were treated and returned to duty. The other four Soldiers were transported to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany for further treatment and are reportedly in stable condition.
Six insurgents were detained and questioned. The village leader was also detained after villagers reported him as a Taliban member.
Coalition forces are also meeting with local leaders to coordinate assistance to the village.
A number of questions have been raised as to the significance of the battle. The ferocity with which the insurgent fighters defended their position is atypical of the hit and run and improvised explosive device tactics the Taliban had been using since being removed from power.
“This is going to force them to rethink their strategy,” Riggenberg said. “I think our tactics will force them to fight and die or surrender. I think we put them on their heels. They now know that the American Army still has the energy to hunt them down.”
(Editor’s note: The Army News Service added information to Pfc. Jon Arguello’s story from a CJTF-76 news release and telephonic reports from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.)