TF Red Bulls Soldiers Fight Their Largest Battle Since WWII
(June 28, 2011)
|NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan (6/24/2011) – Soldiers of Task Force Red Bulls in Nuristan province, Afghanistan, fought the largest battle of the 34th Infantry Division since World War II, May 25.|
The battle involved only about 40 U.S. service members from the Reconnaissance Platoon from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and six soldiers assigned to Company C, both of 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, TF Red Bulls, and about 20 of their Afghan counterparts.
U.S. Army soldiers from 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 34th Mountain Division, TF Red Bulls, as well as Afghan National Army soldiers from the 201st Infantry Corps, seek cover while under fire shortly after their Air Assault into a valley near Do Ab Village, Nuristan province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2011. Photo by U.S. Army Spc. Nathan Cunningham, Task Force Ironman
|Yet this small group of soldiers thwarted an ambush from an enemy force numbering in the hundreds, killing more than 200 insurgent fighters in an intense battle lasting seven hours. The soldiers said the most amazing part of the whole conflict, though, there wasn't one coalition forces casualty.|
“Everybody there in uniform stepped up and did exactly what they're supposed to do,” U.S. Army Capt. Garrett Gingrich, the commander of Company C, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf. Regt., from Dysart, Iowa, and one of six C Company soldiers who participated in the battle, said. “Everybody did their job and it was just an amazing, miraculous thing that nobody [from the coalition] got hurt.”
“All I can figure is there was somebody watching over us,” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Luke Chatfield, C Company's joint fires observer from Floyd, Iowa, added.
The battle took place in Do Ab, a village in northern Nuristan province, about 15 miles north of Forward Operating Base Kalagush.
“What some people don't realize is that not every piece of land in our area of operation is reachable by ground or on daily operations,” U.S. Army 1st Lt. Justin Foote, platoon leader of the Reconnaissance Platoon, HHC, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf. Regt., said. “This was the premier case of that. None of our guys had ever pushed up to Do Ab, and it had been two to three years since any coalition forces had been up there.”
U.S. Army Maj. Aaron Baugher, the battalion operations officer and the battle's senior ground forces commander, explained how TF Ironman soldiers wound up in Do Ab.
“There is a district center in Do AB, which would compare to a county courthouse back in the United States,” Baugher explained. “There is also a police headquarters building and a small clinic.”
“The reports we received were that the Do Ab Afghan Uniform Police were attacked by 400 insurgents and the district center and police observation posts were overrun. There wasn't a lot of information. Initially our job was to seize back the district center, however, the mission eventually changed to securing the landing zone and some high ground and getting in to a position where we could cover a team of Afghan commandos and U.S. forces so that they could go ahead and clear Do Ab.”
What Baugher did know was that it was 8 a.m., and higher headquarters had given him until 10 a.m. to get some troops to Do Ab to determine what the situation in Do Ab really was.
Baugher summoned the Reconnaissance Platoon, as well as Gingrich and his team from C Company, who immediately flew down to FOB Mehtar Lam from Kalagush to meet with the Recon Platoon.
“They said to be at the flightline in 45 minutes, packed for three days, and that's about all we heard at first,” U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Buhr, the sniper section leader with Recon Platoon from Waverly, Iowa, recalled. “At the flightline, we found out a little more — that the DC had been taken over by Taliban. Intelligence is sometimes a little skewed and sometimes when they say 400 insurgent fighters they mean more like 50-75, but when we got up there ... I can believe that number. We'd definitely never seen anywhere near the number of enemy fighters that we saw at Do Ab.”
Baugher, Foote and his men and Gingrich's team boarded two CH-47 Chinook helicopters to fly to Do Ab.
The helicopters landed about 300 meters apart, one to the north one to the south in the only suitable landing zone in the area.
“We saw the terrain we were headed into out the window and it was really, really steep,” Buhr recalled. “Physically the slopes were straight up. It was maybe 150 meters wide east to west in a riverbed; the worst terrain I had ever seen. We could literally only move north toward the district center or south.”
The Recon Platoon soldiers have climbed hundreds of mountains throughout their year in Afghanistan and said this was “hands down” the worst terrain they had faced. They also said it was the ultimate place for an enemy ambush, which is exactly what happened. Once in the valley, they faced immediate contact.
“As soon as we got off the [helicopter], we took indirect fire from mortars, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades,” U.S. Army Spc. Nathan Cunningham, an infantry scout with Recon Platoon recalled.
“The first explosion I heard was an airburst RPG that was aimed at the Chinook, and it was really close,” Buhr said. “Every weapons system that the Taliban uses was probably fired at us that day!”
There was nothing to do but seek cover and return fire, the soldiers said.
“My chalk exited and the first thing we did was immediately run to whatever cover we could find, which ended up being two rocks separated by maybe 30 meters,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Edward Kane, an infantry team leader who volunteered for the deployment, and a Portland, Ore., native. “You could run north and south, but the cover was very sparse.”
Another problem the soldiers said they faced was enemy's position. The insurgents held the high ground and were using what is known as plunging fire to shoot over their cover. The coalition forces were in one of the worst positions imaginable.
“So we laid down suppressive fire on all the enemy locations and tried to establish fire superiority, using direct fires, sniper fires, indirect fires with our mortar team,” Foote said.
Within 10 minutes, Apache helicopters joined the fight, but the enemy continued to attack.
The soldiers held off the enemy attack in the landing zone area for the better part of an hour, but knew they needed to move to a better position.
“I made the call that we needed cover and needed to move to a series of khalats, animal pens actually, to the north,” Baugher said. “It was the best cover available – other than that we were sitting on the LZ with some boulders just trying to find some cover there with bullets bouncing all around.”
The close air support forces gave the Recon Platoon enough of a break in the action via fire superiority to allow the Soldiers to reach the animal pens without much resistance, Foote said.
For six hours the soldiers, along with their ANA counterparts, fought off the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy continued to swarm around them in the mountains above, slowly drawing nearer to their positions in the animal pens. The soldiers did not know it at the time, but the enemy also had heavily fortified fighting positions: chest-high trenches dug into solid rock.
The soldiers said they continued to fight, but as the enemy drew closer, air assets started to make the difference in the battle. The joint terminal attack controllers, U.S. Air Force Airmen who communicate with Army and Air Force aircraft from the ground, ran into the open between the khalats to get information from the soldiers to determine where the rounds were coming from.
“Everybody started helping out the JTACs, calling out distance and direction and stuff,” Buhr said. The JTACs used the information to target the enemy positions and called in close air support.
Meanwhile, the soldiers in the khalats continued to fight and kill the enemy, but the insurgent forces continued to draw nearer. Their shots also became more accurate. A sniper fired within inches of some of the members from Recon Platoon in one of the khlalats.
“There was a little doorway they were zeroed in on, and we continually took sniper fire throughout the whole night,” U.S. Army Spc. Aaron McNew, a machine gunner from Cedar Falls, Iowa, said.
“We were surrounded 360-degrees and each squad was fighting their own separate fight at this point,” Buhr said.
Foote said the platoon pushed out a squad to an eastern ridgeline which immediately took enemy fire.
“I wasn't up there more than about 10 minutes when I started taking fire from about 25 meters away,” Kane said. “I don't think they knew we were there, but they were just trying to shoot in the general direction they thought we were.”
“It got to the point where we dropped bombs literally 250 meters from our position because we had the enemy that close,” Baugher said.
Dropping massive bombs that close to U.S. forces, just outside the bomb's maximum effective range, left no room for error by the JTAC or the pilots, and was a very difficult decision to make, U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Tavis Delaney, a JTAC with the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, Washington Air National Guard, said.
Delaney and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Michael McCaffery, a JTAC apprentice with the 116th ASOS, based out of Tacoma, Wash., and the U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party with Task Force Ironman, worked with Chatfield as part of Gingrich's team to hone in on the enemy positions.
“We held them off and the JTACs dropped bombs, and we dropped mortars,” Cunningham, who said he shot more than 500 rounds from his machine gun, said. “When it hit, we felt the concussion, and there were rocks raining down on us.”
The soldiers of the Recon Platoon said the bombs were necessary, and made the difference in the battle.
“If they hadn't been there dropping bombs, I don't know that we would have gotten out of that valley,” Kane said. “They were getting closer and more accurate.”
Baugher said the amount of munitions used demonstrated just how big the engagement was.
“If you looked at just the munitions we dropped, you can see how this was easily the biggest single engagement the division has been in since World War II,” Baugher said.
During the operation, close air-support used 500-pound bombs, 105 mm and 40 mm cannon rounds from an AC-130 gunship, hellfire missiles and rockets from the rocket pods. The group troops also expended thousands of rounds. “That's pretty huge.”
Chatfield said the efforts of the pilots were crucial in helping save the lives of the infantry fighters on the ground.
“I give a lot of credit to the pilots, both rotary and fixed wing,” Chatfield said. “They came in under fire each time we needed them to. They were getting shot at and still were able to get on target time and time again and didn't hesitate. We had [aircraft] come down the valley lower than any fixed wing I've ever seen before, and they were getting shot at there, too, and they didn't care.”
After Recon Platoon and Gingrich's small group of soldiers had fended off the enemy through six hours of fighting, the Afghan commandos and additional American forces arrived in two Chinooks around 7 p.m. There were originally supposed to be two separate drops of reinforcing soldiers, however, due to the intensity of the gunfire, as well as deteriorating weather conditions, the team of Chinooks only made one run.
“There was a burst from an RPG about 10 meters from where the Chinook was going to land, so it was close,” Baugher said.
The Recon Platoon provided cover for the commandos and American forces while they cleared the Do Ab District Center. After a final burst of enemy resistance, the battle ended.
“They got fire for about another hour and a half, maybe two hours after that, and then there was total silence,” Baugher said. “We found out later ... the remaining insurgents had broken contact and fled. The Apaches, and AC-130 gunship had dropped a final heavy series of bombs, causing them to finally flee, and preventing additional attacks.”
“We spent the next two days securing the district center and doing some patrols through the villages. Not a single shot was fired during that time.”
It has been a long year of fighting the enemy for the soldiers of Recon Platoon. But there is one thing they could all say definitively about the battle at Do Ab.
“Nothing was comparable to this,” Foote said. “Nothing.”
By Army SSgt. Ryan Matson
Combined Joint Task Force 1 - Afghanistan
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article