In Afghanistan, US military officials say it's now or never
In the weeks ahead in eastern Afghanistan, US commanders expect violent clashes between Taliban and US soldiers. It could be a key time for American forces, before US troops start exiting.
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American forces fought for hours after coming to the aid of Afghan security forces to retake a district center in Doab that had been overrun by Taliban fighters. Shortly after some 40 US soldiers arrived, they were surrounded by “about 300 insurgents,” says Lt. Col. Daren Sorenson, deputy 455th EOG commander and an F-15 pilot who was flying overwatch that day.Skip to next paragraph
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US troops started taking fire “from all directions.” As pilots spoke with US forces on the ground, “It’s one of those times where you hear in the tone of voice that they don’t know whether they’re going to make it out of there,” Sorenson adds.
The Air Force joint terminal attack controller (JTAC) on the ground was calm at first. “But his voice changed as soon as they began taking fire,” he says. As the F-15 fighter jets scrambled above, “You could see they were in a very, very bad place.”
The US forces were facing nearly 10-to-1 odds, pinned in by fighters on the steep ridges high above them.
Sorenson and his wingman made a low pass through the narrow valley in their F-15s. This is normally enough to encourage enemy fighters to run, he says, but the insurgents seemed unfazed by the show of force. “They just didn’t stop,” he says. “They knew they had our guys pinned down, and they were determined to keep the fight going.”
The US troops were “taking such effective fire” from the Taliban that bullets were whizzing between them and landing at their feet. Rocket-propelled grenades were flying through the air.
Sorenson dropped every bomb he had during the operation – 14 in total. “It’s extremely rare that we find ourselves in a fight where we deploy all of our bombs,” he says. “But that day we dropped everything we had.”
Still, the fighting did not end. “As fast as we could drop one bomb, our JTAC would say, ‘Good hit, next coordinates.’ ”
The fighters had effectively surrounded troops on the ground. “Literally we are dropping a bomb, pushing the afterburner, lining up, and dropping again.”
After dropping his bombs and being replaced by another team of Air Force fighter pilots, Sorenson returned to base and began listening to the battle on the radio.
The fight lasted several hours as Taliban insurgents stopped, regrouped, and returned, he says. But eventually, the fight ended, with no US fatalities and some 200 Taliban killed, according to US military estimates.
“Frankly, if that’s the method they want to use, that’s fine. We very much have the enemy on his heels,” says Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and of Regional Command East. “At the end of the day, the insurgents held the district center for 24 hours and lost somewhere in the vicinity of a couple hundred to do it,” he adds. “It’s a Pyrrhic victory is the bottom line.”
Still, it illustrates the intensity of fighting that US troops must wage, says Sorenson: “Our guys got really close to being overrun.”
IN PICTURES: Battling the Afghan insurgency