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Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2002 - All Rights Reserved
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On March 4, 2002, the United States suffered its bloodiest military setback
in the War on Terrorism when two MH-47 Chinook helicopters came under
attack in the mountains of northeastern
Afghanistan from cornered Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Nine
Americans perished in an intense firefight that started on a plateau in
the mountain range that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan when two twin-rotor
MH-47 Chinooks came under ground fire as they attempted to drop off a
reconnaissance team near Gardez.
Chinooks, part of Operation Anacondathe attempted strangulation
of the Al Qaeda and Taliban at Shad-e-Kot, near Gardezwere attempting
to deploy a recon team in the lower section of two mountain ranges that
separate Afghanistan from Pakistan when they came under heavy fire from
Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters using small arms, machine guns and shoulder-fired
grenades and anti-tank missiles. On the Afghan side, the mountain peaks
range around seven thousand feet. The Pakistani range, separated from
the Afghan range by a plateau that is anywhere from one mile to one-and-a-half
miles wide, reach up to twelve thousand feet.
to the initial military media release, when the Chinooks came under fire
from a hand-held grenade launcher as the helos were departing the scene,
a grenade rocked one of the Chinooks so severely that 32-year old Navy
Seal Petty Officer 3rd Class Neil C. Roberts fell out of the in-flight
MH-47. The initial reports suggested that the MH-47 returned to retrieve
their fallen comrade (whom one would logically imagine died from injuries
sustained during the fall). It was reportedly when the helos returned
to get the body of their fallen comrade that a 12-hour firefight ensued
and six additional soldiers were killed and 10 more suffered wounds.
Later reports confirmed what happened. Three
rockets exploded near the Chinook when it was about 15 feet off the ground,
causing a hatch to open. According to witnesses on the chopper, one of
the soldiers on board who was not strapped in almost fell out. Roberts,
who was strapped in, reached out and grabbed the GI before he could fall.
But, to pull him back into the chopper, Roberts had to disengage his safety
belt. Handing his rifle to another soldier, and after he had released
his own safety harness, Roberts pulled his comrade to safety. Another
explosion close to the chopper then caused Roberts to lose his balance
and he fell15 feet or soto the ground below.
According to reports from the air, Robertsarmed
only with his sidearmengaged the Al Qaeda and took out a machine
gun nest before he ran out of ammunition and was captured by the terrorists
on the ground.
to Maj. Gen. F. L. Hagenbeck, commander of the Special Forces 10th Mountain
Division, Robertswho was initially misidentified by the Pentagon
as 34-year old Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman from Wade,
NCwas held captive briefly during the firefight which he described
as a meat grinder. A Newhouse News Service report initially
identified the killed soldier as Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L.
Harriman, 34, of Wade, NC. Harriman was the casualty suffered a day earlier,
and was the first fatality in Operation Anaconda.
According to Newhouse News Service, which
later interviewed General Hagenbeck, ...a rescue operation was organized...
and returned for the lost Navy Seal whose execution had already been witnessed
on video shot from an overhead drone. It was already too late, but the
Mountain Division was determined to get their man out of enemy hands.
Pictures of the bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the
streets of Somalia had to loom large in the minds of every special ops
soldier that landed at Shah-e-kot. They would not leave a man behindeven
one who was already dead.
After an intense battle with the Al Qaeda
that lasted 18 hours, the rescue force secured Roberts body.
Of the Al Qaeda fighters, whom the Islamic
world views as martyrs of Allah, Bush said: These are killers. These
are murderers. To reporters in Minneapolis where Bush was speaking
on education, Bush reiterated his determination to fulfill his mission
of eradicating the Al Qaeda. After the body of Neil Roberts was retrieved,
the military responded by dropping 15 bombs per minute on the Al Qaeda
stronghold. When the airstrike was over, 350 bombs were dropped by long-range
B-52 bombers and carrier-based fighter bombers. The aerial assault covered
a terrain of around 70 square miles. During that assault the military
used its new thermobaric bomb that kills with a massive explosive shockwave
that sucks the oxygen out of the caves as it explodes, suffocating anyone
who is hiding inside as it collapses the caves.
The attack force consisted of 1,000 Afghan
troops who acted as support for the 800 troops of the 10th
Mountain Division and a complement from the 101st Airborne. With them
was a unit of European and Australian commandos.
Logic of Operation Anaconda
the second month of Enduring Freedom the U.S. Central Command noted that
after being routed, the Al Qaeda furtively regrouped at Zhawar Kili (one
of bin Ladens primary terrorist training centers). General Tommy
Franks ordered massive air strikes on Zhawar Kili over a period of several
days hoping to take out bulk of the Al Qaeda. Several hundred Al Qaeda
were killed but thousands escaped simply because nobody closed the escape
routes before the air strikes began. As the Al Qaeda headed for the mountains
in northeastern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border, Gen. Franks decided
to correct his mistakes by closing and locking the doors before the party
began. Franks wanted to make sure his invited guests did not leave before
the fat lady sang and the last dance played out on the mile high, frigid,
While the fear remained that the potential
existed that several Afghan warlords might provide both sanctuary in the
cave networks to the Al Qaeda and also grant them safe passage through
several of the cave tunnels that go completely through the mountains from
Afghanistan to Pakistan, Gen. Franks counted on the Pakistani, Afghan,
European and Australian commandos to bottle up the mountain passes and
prevent the Al Qaeda from escaping from Shah-e-Kot when the fireworks
While the US Central Command would like
the public to believe that they found the Al Qaeda at Shad-e-Kot based
on intelligent guesswork followed up by even better military reconnaissance
nothing could be farther from the truth.
De J Vue
When the Soviet Union and its Northern Alliance
partners fought the Pakistan-backed Taliban during the late
1980s, a Soviet armored juggernaut supported by the same type of carpet
bombing strategies used by the United States drove the CIA-backed Afghan
freedom fighters from the lower steppes and valleys into the mountain
range that separated Afghanistan
Once holed up, the Taliban made their stand
and ultimately defeated the Soviet Union from the same mountain ranges
where the Taliban is now making its final stand against the United States,
European and Australian troops, and the Afghani forces. It is not in the
least surprising that, since they were successful in defeating a superior
enemy from the cave systems in northeastern Afghanistan, the Taliban would
use the same tactics against the United States. What is surprising is
that the United States, which created the small arms and machine gunfire
gauntlet that Soviet choppers were forced to endure in order to put their
troops on the ground in the impassible mountains, would do precisely what
the Soviets didand endure the same type of lethal crossfire that
cost the Soviets multiple hundreds of lives with little results, making
the Afghan war extremely unpopular in the Soviet Union. Ultimately, because
they could never successfully rout the Taliban, the Soviets finally gave
up, pulled their troops from the Afghan mountains, and returned to Russia.
As far as the Taliban and Al Qaeda are concerned,
nothing succeeds like success.
It worked once.
Why would it not work again?
Particularly since it appears that the US
military, based on the operational tactics used on March 4 when the MH-47
Chinooks came under attack from the cave structure that resulted in the
the loss of seven American special ops team members.
of the things the CIA discovered in the mid-1980s was that the dual mountain
range that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan presented them with a natural
ambush site where they could snare and kill the Soviet troops
while suffering minimum casualties themselves. Flying north, the peaks
of the Afghan mountain range on the left averaged 7,000 feet. The Pakistani
range on the right soared to 12,000 feet. Through the middle of what became
the gauntlet is a plateau that ranged in width from a half
mile to one mile. This plateau, just south of Gardez at Shah-e-Kot, became
the gauntlet. On the Pakistani side of the gauntlet, lethal machine gun,
mortar and shoulder-fired missile emplacements where blown into the sheer
granite escarpment and were manned by Taliban freedom fighters. On the
left was the gauntlet. A line of Taliban freedom fighters lined the plateau,
waiting for the Soviet helicopter attack ships. As the choppers dropped
down into the valley between the two mountain ranges, a mile long chain
of small arms fire would rain a lethal fire on the choppers. To avoid
the gauntlet, the Soviet helicopters would move rightdirectly into
the line of even more lethal fire from the gun emplacements that were
chiseled into the Pakistani mountain range on their right.
Where the Soviet choppers experienced heavy
small arms fire on the left, the fire from the right came from machine
guns, mortars aimed directly at the choppers and shoulder-fired antitank
missiles that could easily bring down even the largest Soviet transport
choppers. This was the same gauntlet that the 101st Airborne and the 10th
Mountain Division faced when the two MH-47 Chinooks came under attack
on March 4. Tragically, the tactics used against the 10th Mountain Division
were developed by the Central Intelligence Agency to overcome the Soviet
army in the mid-1980s.
Much of the confusion about what happened
to Petty Officer Neil Robertsand whether or not a grenade or mortar
fired from the gun emplacements on the Pakistani side of the gauntlet
exploded close enough to the Chinook in which Roberts was riding to cause
him to fall outwas the result of type of frantic confusion that
results from battle. When you come under heavy fire from an enemy, self-survival
becomes paramount and during a life-threatening firefight your world
narrows to the space which you personally occupy. Apparently the drones
which video-taped the assassination of Roberts at the hands of the Al
Qaeda do not give a clear picture of what happened and whether or not
the Navy Seal fell from the chopper when it was in-flight or lifting offor
whether he was somehow pulled out of the MH-47 as he was tried to climb
on board during the first firefight that was initiated when the companion
Chinook was shot down. More likely Roberts did not reach the Chinook,
which was under heavy fire when it lifted off. He was simply left behind.
However, the long and short of the fierce,
18-hour bloody battle that the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters were not
in the cave structure around Shah-e-Kot simply by happenstance. Had the
Pentagon taken the time to read the CIAs gamebook from the Soviet-Afghan
War they would have realized, long before the Taliban evacuated Kabul,
that the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters would regroup in the Gardez area
since that is where they defeated the mighty Soviet Union.
In the same token, by reviewing the tactics
used by the CIA during the Soviet-Afghan conflict, General Tommy Franks
will have foreknowledge of every strategy that the Al Qaeda will use to
inflict injury on the American troops that have come to ferret them out
of the caves.
Because it worked against the Soviet Union,
the Islamic terrorists who are determined to regain their grip of power
over the Afghan people, believe that if they inflict enough casualties
on the American military that public opinion in the United States will
force the government to withdraw its troops giving the Muslim extremists
a major victory in its war against America.