A Fight in Afghanistan



          Memorial Day Weekend 2002



Arlington National Cemetary.
   Memorial Day is a Federal Holiday in the United States of America set aside to observe and remember the passing of fallen comrades who have lost their lives in the struggle to preserve freedom and democracy throughout the world.



             WASHINGTON, 24 May 2002 - The deadliest firefight for the United States in the Afghan war so far - a mountain battle that killed seven Americans - was beset by communications problems, U.S. Defense officials said Friday.


General Tommy Franks speaks to U.S. troops at the U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, 15 May 2002. Franks was paying a one-day visit to Afghanistan to the several thousand American troops stationed in the country.
   The war commander, Army General Tommy Franks, attributed the problems to the harsh weather and equipment failures, such as broken radios and shot-up helicopters, rather than to human error.


             In the leadup to the U.S. holiday of Memorial Day, he praised the bravery of the troops and the success, though costly, of the operation in recounting the battle on the frigid mountaintop against dug-in al-Qaeda fighters. A Navy SEAL team member who fell out of a helicopter and six soldiers who tried to rescue him were killed.

             "That battle showed heroism," Franks said. "It showed fog, uncertainty, it showed friction, elements common to every war I think we've fought."

             During the battle, in March, in an area of eastern Afghanistan that local people call Takur Ghar, U.S. commanders watched helplessly as a Predator drone relayed live video of some of the fighting.

             The operation was beset by communications problems, from a reconnaissance flight that failed to detect al-Qaeda forces lying in wait to the difficulties that troops on the ground and in helicopters had in raising their commanders and raising nearby warplane pilots.

             Franks indicated troops in the heat of the fight might have used a wrong radio frequency.

             But he said no changes in command arrangements between regular and special forces were made as a result of a Pentagon review. He said of the people on the scene that day: "I think their judgments were good."

             Nor did he think it was extraordinary that equipment would malfunction given the circumstances. "In the middle of a firefight, things will get shot up," he said.

             Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was briefed on the review's findings on Thursday.

             "As in most human endeavors, plans are never executed exactly the way they're developed," Rumsfeld said.

             The battle was part of Operation Anaconda, a U.S.-led effort to encircle and eliminate a large number of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the mountains south of Gardez. It began early in the morning of March 4, when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter tried to drop a team of Navy SEAL commandos near the top of a mountain.

             There were heavily armed al-Qaeda fighters there, and they shot at the chopper with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades (RPG). The helicopter was hit, and as it lurched away to safety, Navy Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts tumbled out the rear door.

             Roberts survived the fall, but was eventually surrounded and killed by the al-Qaeda fighters.

             Six others were killed as two other Chinooks dropped in teams to rescue Roberts or recover his body.

             One man, Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Chapman, was with Roberts' group of SEALs. They had boarded another Chinook and returned to the mountain to get Roberts but also came under fire and fell back, farther down the mountain, before the third Chinook arrived.

             Five of the dead were from that last team, Army Rangers and Air Force commandos whose Chinook landed after daybreak at the spot where Roberts fell out of his helicopter. The third Chinook also came under heavy fire and was disabled; it was believed that the four Rangers killed were shot either inside the helicopter or as they were trying to leave it.

             The surviving members of the Ranger unit battled the al-Qaeda forces for hours before being evacuated.



          Takur Ghar Timeline



             Described below is the sequence of events in the March battle for Takur Ghar, a mountain in eastern Afghanistan, according to military officials and an unclassified report released Friday by the Pentagon. All times are local to Afghanistan:

             March 2: U.S. commanders begin planning to insert commandos atop Takur Ghar [Objective Ginger]. The 10,200 foot (3,060-meter) mountain offered a prime view of a valley where scores of al-Qaeda fighters were battling U.S. and coalition troops during Operation Anaconda.

             March 3: An MH-47E Chinook helicopter takes off late at night from Gardez, dozens of miles to the north, to insert a team of Navy SEAL commandos atop Takur Ghar to establish an observation post.

             March 4, 3 a.m.: The Chinook approaches its landing zone atop Takur Ghar. Soldiers see footprints, but before the helicopter can leave it is hit by rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and machine gun fire. Navy Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts falls from about 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) to the ground; the helicopter lurches away to crash land about four miles to the north.

             3 a.m.to 5 a.m.: Roberts fights the al-Qaeda forces atop the mountain and is killed.

             5 a.m.: The other members of Roberts' team, who have boarded another Chinook, are dropped off on the mountaintop. They attack al-Qaeda fighters in two nearby bunkers. Air Force Technical Sergeant John Chapman is killed before the unit withdraws down the mountain. Chapman was killed while charging a bunker at the base of a large rock. Chapman's body is later found inside one of the bunkers, near Roberts' body.

             5:45 a.m.: A third Chinook, carrying a rescue team of Army Rangers and three Air Force fighters, nears the mountaintop. Because of a miscommunication, the Chinook tries to land atop the mountain instead of finding a safer area nearby, immediately coming under fire from three sides and crashing the last 10 feet to the ground. Four Army solders are killed as the helicopter takes heavy fire and crash lands atop Takur Ghar.

             7 a.m.: The Rangers are no longer in danger of being overrun, having killed several al-Qaeda fighters and sheltered their wounded behind the bullet-riddled Chinook. Another Ranger rescue unit is climbing the peak from a spot about 2,000 feet below, reaching the top by about 8 a.m.

             10:30 a.m.: The men are exhausted but still have to defeat the al-Qaeda forces in the bunkers on the mountaintop, about 50 yards away. The Rangers storm the hill and finish off the al-Qaeda in the bunkers.

             10:45 a.m.: Two al-Qaeda fighters begin attacking the Rangers from a knoll about 400 yards behind the Rangers. They fire where medics are treating the wounded, hitting Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, an Air Force medic. The Americans drag their wounded to the mountaintop and kill the attacking enemy. Cunningham eventually bleeds to death.

             8:15 p.m.: Four U.S. helicopters arrive atop Takur Ghar to evacuate the commandos and retrieve the seven American dead.

             9:15 p.m.: The survivors of Takur Ghar arrive at their base at Gardez. The wounded are treated by military doctors. By the next morning, all the wounded are on their way to military hospitals in Germany and elsewhere.



             The American who was captured when he fell from a helicopter in Afghanistan was killed deliberately, the US ground commander has said.

             Senior military officials have begun giving details of the series of events near Gardez on Monday that led to the deaths of seven US troops.

             Ground commanders saw some of the action on a video feed from an unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and have been debriefing those involved to piece together exactly what happened.

             Major General Frank Hagenbeck said he saw Petty Officer Neil Roberts being dragged off by three suspected members of al-Qaeda.

             When the body of the 32-year-old Navy SEAL was recovered several hours later, it was discovered he had been shot.

             "All the evidence is that the al-Qaeda executed him," General Hagenbeck said.



             Click-N-Go Here to see a graphical representation of the incident on Takur Ghar.    Click-N-Go Here to see a graphical representation of the rescue operation on Takur Ghar.



British Royal Marines board a helicopter in Afghanistan.


             British Royal Marines board a helicopter in Afghanistan, Monday, 27 May 2002, as they prepare to take part in Operation Buzzard near the Pakistani border on Wednesday, 29 May 2002. In Operation Buzzard, British forces will conduct patrols in populated and rural areas by helicopter, foot and vehicle to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from returning to Afghanistan.



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