Battle for Afghanistan's Gambir Jungle: A race against daybreak

As night fell on Day 2 of Operation Hammer Down, a new plan to help the stricken 1st Platoon took shape. But when 3rd Platoon got the call, the Taliban were close on its tail.

By , Staff writer

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    US soldiers of 2-12 Infantry, 4BCT-4ID, Task Force Mountain Warrior, walk on the top of a mountain during an operation near Michigan camp in the Pech Valley of Kunar Province on Aug. 18, 2009.
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[To read the previous installment of this series, please click here.]

In the predawn hours of Monday, June 27, 3rd Platoon set off across the valley that separated them from their fellow soldiers in 1st Platoon.

Two days earlier, they had watched with a sense of helplessness as the 1st had been pounded by insurgents.

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"It was heart wrenching," says a soldier.

Now, they had the order to move in. It was not even a one-mile trek, but it was the hardest one that troops in the 3rd say they had yet experienced.

The 3rd had been told that they would have air cover for the duration of their march, which would take approximately six hours. Twenty minutes in, however, they learned that they would have none. With air support often in short supply in the east, aircraft had been pushed to another mission.

But as the grim scramble over and around rocks progressed, the 3rd began to realize that it was being followed.

"We picked up [Taliban radio intelligence] chatter that they had eyes on us. They were asking for permission to engage," says Staff Sgt. Christopher Panter.

The insurgents had been tracking them, following the faint green glow from the soldiers' night-vision goggles. In order to see that, the enemy had to be no more than 50 yards away in the darkness, soldiers estimate.

"That's when I thought we were all done," says 1st Lt. Cody Mossberg.

Darkness, however, was a US ally. A Taliban commander denied the fighters permission to shoot, because "they didn't want to give away their location at night," Mossberg says.

For the 3rd, the race to help the 1st had also become a race to save itself before sunrise. "If we'd been caught out there, there was no way to hide. We would be sitting ducks," Mossberg says. "At one point we were still 300 meters away with less than 50 minutes [until] daylight."

At the end of those 50 minutes, the 3rd was safe, and the relief that the 1st so desperately needed had arrived.

Some 3,000-plus feet up the mountainside, however, daylight brought not relief but a new wave of attacks against Havoc Company that soldiers likened to an old-fashioned neighborhood brawl.

The battle for the Gambir Jungle:

Part 1, Tuesday: Soldiers' tales of an epic battle

Part 2, Wednesday: Into the 'Valley of Death'

Part 3, Thursday: First Platoon's 'last stand'

Part 4, Friday: A race against daybreak

Part 5, Saturday: What was it all for?

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