A Soldier Reports on Al-Qaida Fight


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Drizzt
January 29, 2003, 11:54 AM
A Soldier Reports on Al-Qaida Fight


The Associated Press


High on a mountain in Afghanistan, the helicopter circled, maneuvering into position to try to rescue a Navy SEAL who had fallen out of another chopper. Suddenly, the second craft was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades. When it crash-landed, it was hit again. And again.

It was part of a fierce engagement at a place called Takur Ghar, a barren, 10,200-foot ridge where U.S. forces exchanged deadly fire with fighters for al-Qaida and the former Afghan rulers, the Taliban.

"By the time I was able to get off of the aircraft, three of our team members were already dead," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Vance three weeks after the engagement last March. In the end, seven Americans died.

Vance has been awarded the Silver Star, one of several decorations for valor in the fight, and he has been invited to attend President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday.

Vance's story, detailed in an affidavit he gave at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan -- a document that would normally remain secret -- mysteriously made it onto the Internet. Confirmed by U.S. military officials, it is a rare firsthand look behind the veil of the ongoing war against terror.

"Gripping" was how one authority, retired Army Col. David Hackworth, described Vance's account. "In the days of satellite wonder bombs zeroing in on their targets from 40,000 feet in the sky, you don't have gunfights anymore."


* * *


Vance:

"One team member was on the ramp with a hole in his head. There was no mistaking that he was dead. The second team member was at the end of the ramp face down in the snow.... The last deceased team member was lying on his back at the end of the ramp not moving. These three ... had died from enemy fire....

"I figured out which way we were being engaged from and I sought cover behind a cutout in the rock face. It was just big enough for four team members to kneel behind it. We set up a perimeter. Two other members were back to my right and three members to my left. I was closest to the enemy. There were two enemies about 50 meters north of us near a tree. There was one enemy behind me and to the right already dead. There were some more enemies to the south coming out. Then we started to engage the enemy."


* * *


A specialist who normally directs air strikes from the ground, Vance, a 25-year-old father of two, was taking part in Operation Anaconda, a mission to rid the Shah-i-Kot mountains of southeastern Afghanistan of al-Qaida, the group believed responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and its Taliban allies.

Vance was among 21 Army Rangers, air crew and other special-operations troops on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The initial mission to Takur Ghar was to set up an observation post on the summit. An earlier helicopter carrying the reconnaissance team was hit as it tried to land on the ridge. U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts fell out as the helicopter flew off to crash land a short distance away. A group of Navy SEALs in a helicopter sent to rescue Roberts was forced off the ridge. Vance and the Rangers he was with made another attempt.


* * *


"First, we shot M203 rounds at (a) bunker. An M203 is a grenade launcher that fits on a M4/16. As the squad leader and team leader shot M203s, I stood up and provided covering fire. When he would stand up to fire a grenade at the bunker, I would stand up and shoot at the bunker to cover him. I did the same when the crew members would run for more ammo. We tried throwing fragment grenades at the enemy but they were too far away and the bunker was on the backside of the hill. The enemy threw fragment grenades at us but they landed 5-10 feet in front of me, buried in the snow and blew up."


* * *


In broad military terms, the action at Takur Ghar was a minor skirmish. If not for the casualties, it would have remained an unknown peak, a footnote to the 16-day Operation Anaconda.

But in military circles it's a cliche to say that there is no such thing as a minor skirmish for those who are being shot at.

"It's war at its worst, war at its most noble and glorious," Hackworth said. "It was what our forefathers went through at Valley Forge, in the Argonne Forest in World War I, and Bastogne in World War II."


* * *


"There was no power to the aircraft, without which we could not operate the mini-guns. One of the team members yelled at a member of the crew to get the power working so we could use those guns. The mini-guns shoot 7.62 ammo and so does our M240. The crew was taking ammo and giving it to our M240 gunner. When the crew members would run back to the aircraft for more ammo, I would stand up and shoot at the bunker to cover them. They were also taking M203 rounds and magazines off of the KIA (killed in action) and bringing it to us. The crew pulled off insulation from the aircraft to wrap the casualties in to keep them warm ...

"Then four of us (myself, the platoon leader, squad leader, and team leader) started to assault the tree area where the enemy was coming from while the M240 gunner suppressed it. (Army Captain Nathan) Self, the platoon leader, was in charge. Once we realized that it was a bunker, a couple of enemy came out from behind a tree and took shots at us.

"We were moving slow because the snow was up to our knees and we were going uphill. The platoon leader finally said let's back up and rethink this. We backed up because we could not afford to lose any more guys."


* * *


Thanks to an unmanned Predator drone flying surveillance over the ridge, commanders back at Bagram Air Force Base about 130 miles away watched the fighting live.

"It was gut-wrenching," Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, then-commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told The Washington Post last spring. "We saw the helicopter getting shot as it was just setting down. We saw the shots being fired. And it was unbelievable the Rangers were even able to get off that and kill the enemy without suffering greater losses."

Controllers on the ground directed Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft to pound the entrenched enemy positions. And eventually, another CH-47 full of reinforcements landed 2,000 feet below where the skirmish was unfolding.

By then, 2 1/2 hours had passed since Vance and his group had landed on the mountainside.


* * *


"The majority of enemy ... firing at us were on the hill near the bunker area. We killed seven of them. The last time I saw anyone move in the bunker, I was scanning the hilltop and I saw the upper half of an enemy behind some bushes. I shot three times, got down and stood back up. This was the last I had seen him. I never went over toward that bunker so I cannot confirm if I had killed him.

"Then we shot some more bombs in the bunker area. I told (controllers) to direct them to shoot down the backside of the hill north of us. I thought it was better to have them shoot downhill with the first one so we could walk him in to the target. The first bomb hit the backside of the hill and then I told him to bring it up and hit the tree over the bunker. The second one hit the tree dead on and split it in half. The fire from the bunker area ceased."


* * *


It took two hours for reinforcements to make it up the mountainside to Vance and the others. Once they reached the top, it was 13 hours before they were picked up by three more helicopters. The fighting continued, but without the intensity of the early hours of the battle.

Besides the seven U.S. forces killed at Takur Ghar -- including Roberts, the Navy SEAL -- 10 were wounded, and one U.S. soldier died in another phase of Operation Anaconda.

U.S. military planners claimed success in driving al-Qaida out of the region, but others have questioned the effectiveness of the operation.


* * *


"I received a minor wound to my left shoulder. It is a shrapnel puncture wound. I didn't notice it until a day later when I woke up and my shoulder felt like someone punched me. I then looked at the T-shirt I was wearing that night and noticed it was blood stained.

"I went through so many different emotions, excited, mad, frustrated, sad; any other emotion you could possibly feel, you feel going through this whole thing. And I felt guilty if I felt anything was funny ... because we had lost members of our team.

"Everyone out there just did his job. I just did my job, everything came natural and my training kicked in. There is nothing I could have changed about that day. Nothing we could have done different or better. ... Everybody working together and the good Lord is what got us home."


* * *


POSTSCRIPT:

Col. William Darley, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., said: "There are many, slightly different versions of this statement circulating around the Net. However, of the ones we have compared, the differences are slight and do not impact the basic facts that Vance asserts in his recounting of events."

Vance was to attend Tuesday's State of the Union speech, according to the Air Force, which turned down Associated Press requests to interview him.

The military has awarded two Air Force Crosses, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars for Valor, 19 Bronze Stars for support and other decorations to personnel who fought at Takur Ghar, Darley said.

The Silver Star awarded Jan. 16 to Vance, now stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., officially recognizes his "notable and unusual acts of singular bravery."

http://www.newsday.com/ny-usafgh0128,0,1688204.story

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Viking6
January 29, 2003, 12:07 PM
Sounds like a bunch of fine warriors, especially Vance.

DonP
January 29, 2003, 01:00 PM
Even with all the high tech capabilities, it always seems to wind up being the man with a rifle, grenades, training and guts that marks a true warrior.

Stf Sgt. Kevin Vance, meet Sgt Alvin York, Audie Murphy, Milton Olive and a lot of other fine men that you have a lot in common with.

Don P.

Blackhawk
January 29, 2003, 02:06 PM
Thanks for the post, Drizzt!

jmbg29
January 29, 2003, 02:11 PM
So much for the folks that think our Airmen, Soldiers and Sailors (Marines and SF left out for obvious reasons) don't need to know how to shoot. Can I get a Duh? Testify!:D

JamisJockey
January 29, 2003, 02:14 PM
Where is the lesson in all of this?

Everyone out there just did his job. I just did my job, everything came natural and my training kicked in

Training is everything, folks. If you train properly and frequently, you will prevail.

Sidenote:
I frequently disagree with the policies of our Government, especially foriegn policy. However, when we send our young men and women into battle, they had damn well better be the best trained and equipped forces in the world!!!!!! Afghanistan is proof that they are.



No Blood for Oil, No war in Iraq!

rock jock
January 29, 2003, 02:54 PM
No Blood for Oil, No war in Iraq!
Saddam's favorite quote.

PATH
January 29, 2003, 03:01 PM
There are many who doubt the capacity of Americans to fight. There are those who say we are a weak nation. I believe the bravery of the men on that lonely mountain speaks volumes about Americas best. Outstanding!

JamisJockey
January 29, 2003, 03:02 PM
Saddam's favorite quote :scrutiny:
Let me quess.... "You're either with us or against us", right?!?

I'm not going to get into an arguement over setting precedent by attacking Iraq without solid proof that he is directly threatening our country or our people. Or how we run around with a 'Do what we say, not what we do' foriegn policy.
I won't bring up how We've got bigger problems in our own country, and our own hemishpere (like Argentina :uhoh: )
I won't bring up how our porous borders open us up to terrorisim and should be dealt with immediately.
Or how the same administration responsible for the Patriot Act and the Office of Homeland Defense is also about to bring war to the Middle East in the name of the U.S.
Or how we are the reason for Saddam Hussein's success as a dictator.
And I'll completely ignore the fact that the U.N. is an illegitamte debate society that we shouldn't participate in.
:banghead:

rock jock
January 29, 2003, 03:18 PM
I'm not going to get into an arguement over setting precedent by attacking Iraq without solid proof that he is directly threatening our country or our people.
Your standard for "solid proof", I am afraid, is impossible to meet.

I won't bring up how We've got bigger problems in our own country
Such as?

I won't bring up how our porous borders open us up to terrorisim and should be dealt with immediately.
And this negates our need for action aganist Iraq how?

Or how the same administration responsible for the Patriot Act and the Office of Homeland Defense is also about to bring war to the Middle East in the name of the U.S.
Damn straight! I would rather we bring it to them then they bring it to us?

JamisJockey
January 29, 2003, 03:56 PM
Your standard for "solid proof", I am afraid, is impossible to meet.

How so? And just because he does have some weapons, so what? Make it clear, if he uses them to threaten his neighbors, or uses them, that he will pay dearly. Otherwise, let his own neighbors deal with him.

Such as?

Economic woes. Homelessness. Liberalisim run rampant. Crime.
Porous borders. Government run rampant.

And this negates our need for action aganist Iraq how?
What need? We don't need to deal with Iraq. His neighbors should deal with him. If they don't want to its thier own damn problem.
We've been affected more in the last couple years by economic struggles in Argentina then anything in Iraq.

Damn straight! I would rather we bring it to them then they bring it to us?
So, we should take on the entire middle east, eh? Because thats the root of the problem. They hate us. Even our 'allies' in the region harbor terrorists who are prepared to bring harm upon us.


We screwed up by not taking care of this problem after the first Iraq war. If it flares up again, take appropriate action. The only reason it has flared up now is because of us.

rock jock
January 29, 2003, 04:59 PM
Homelessness.
You forgot to add global warming and the fate of the spotted owl.:rolleyes:

El Tejon
January 29, 2003, 05:08 PM
They quote Hackworth? Isn't Hackworth the same person telling us how "these kids today" can't fight their way out of paper sacks?:rolleyes:

JamisJockey
January 29, 2003, 05:26 PM
You forgot to add global warming and the fate of the spotted owl.

Thats weak.
Very weak.
You've resorted to a very liberal tact. Faced with a valid argument from another side, you resort to insults. :scrutiny:
Global warming is a myth perpetuated by the Liberal press and scientists going off of only a few decades of hard data. The spotted owl had better adapt or get the hell out of the way.

Just because I'm against a very weakly justified war in a country that can't excercise as much influence upon us as the press and current administration would make you think doesn't make me any kind of blissninny or anti-war type. War is often necessary in the protection of the people and property of the United States.
I'm firmly of the belief there is very little difference between either side (Democrat, Republican. Liberal, Conservative). Both sides want to force views upon other people, control our lives as subjects rather then citizens, and spit upon the constitution to achieve thier goals.

You quote my idea of dealing with homelessness as if I'm pushing some sort of Blissninny tree hugger agenda. We dump millions into corrupt third world countries, and often send our young soldiers to die for thier freedom. Yet there are homeless people wandering our own streets?!? What about American Children starving in our own country??? Where are our priorites?!?
To hell with the rest of the world, we need to look inward first.

rock jock
January 29, 2003, 06:39 PM
On the contrary, my point was valid. We should consider threats to our national security on their own merits independent of other problems we may be facing. Introducing homelessness and a sour economy are red herrings (BTW, this goes for the "Blood for Oil" argument as well - another, perhaps the biggest red herring). We should either go to war with Iraq or we shouldn't, but the decision to do so should be irrespective of where the Nasdaq Composite is sitting. I know where you come from, and the isolationist stance is valid in some cases, but the idea that we can just stick our head in the proverbial sand given the degree of globalization today is just pure naivete, or worse. I thought most people realized this after 9/11.

jmbg29
January 29, 2003, 07:32 PM
There are many who doubt the capacity of Americans to fight.There are graveyards filled with 'em. :evil:

Admiral Thrawn
January 29, 2003, 10:09 PM
"blissninny"

- hahaha, I like that one. :p

voilsb
January 30, 2003, 03:23 PM
sounds like the airman did his job pretty well.

I wonder what the actual citation for his medal was? and I wonder about the other ones, too (except the bronze stars ... too many of them)

JamisJockey
January 30, 2003, 03:39 PM
We should consider threats to our national security on their own merits

We can agree to disagree, if nothing else. I feel that our fighting men are too valuable a resource to risk for such things as Iraq. We've still got to root out Al Queda....

anyways,
its good to see our fighting men's training level is what it should be. They are tough, resiliant, resoursceful, and determined. Too bad they couldn't employ the minigun off the downed helo....

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