Taliban biker militia: Anatomy of a failed Afghanistan ambush
The Taliban rode Honda motorcycles, but US and Afghanistan troops didn't fall for trap set by hardened, battle-ready insurgents.
Forward Operating Base Nawbahar, Afghanistan
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Firing mortars to lure the Americans and Afghans out of their mud-straw base, the motorcycle-borne Taliban headed toward a nearby ravine. Dozens of insurgents with light machine guns, a recoilless rifle and four trucks bearing three anti-aircraft guns and a heavy machine gun were set up in a classic ambush from high ground.
US and Afghan troops didn't take the bait, however, and instead waited in a village near the base for air cover. It arrived more quickly than the Taliban expected. Firing Hellfire missiles and 30 mm cannons, the pilots of two Apache helicopters made so many passes that they lost track and nearly ran out of ammunition. Afghan and US ground troops then moved in to kill more.
At least 17 Taliban died in the fight Nov. 7, possibly as many as 20, according to pilots and Afghan soldiers, who think the Taliban took the other bodies. The Americans and Afghans suffered no losses.
Welcome to F.O.B. Nowhere
The base where the battle occurred is in eastern Zabul province, in a location so remote that US soldiers there dubbed it "F.O.B. Nowhere." On Saturday, the US Army had the two Apache pilots travel to the base to meet the Afghan and American soldiers on the ground, who'd prepared a celebratory feast of rice and goat. It was a rare chance for soldiers who see the fighting from different vantage points to share their experiences of the same battle.
The Afghan brigade commander, Maj. Gen. Jamall din Sayad, flew to give his congratulations Afghan-style, handing out cash rewards to the Afghan soldiers who'd distinguished themselves in the mop-up fight. Nearby sat a 25-foot table loaded with weapons and bomb-making parts captured in the battle. Beside it were two of the 8-foot-long anti-aircraft guns and a dozen Honda motorcycles that the Taliban fighters had been using.
The pilots, Capt. Kyle Maki, of Memphis, Tenn., and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keith Matz, of Slippery Rock, Pa., mugged for pictures in the seats of the anti-aircraft guns, then checked out the austere fort, which was made of a mixture of mud and straw, was the size of a suburban yard and looked like a child's vision of the Alamo.
Everything, from food and water to people and fuel, has to be brought in by air, and without any senior officers around, hair gets a little long and some soldiers go for weeks without baths.
As Matz fired up a fat cigar, an Afghan sergeant dashed up to Maki and embraced him.
"Boom, boom, boom!" he shouted. "Shooting Taliban, it's very good!"
Taliban pros ready for a fight
Then the pilots, who are members of the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, climbed a ladder to the Alamo-like ramparts and described the 6-foot flames that had been coming out of one of the anti-aircraft guns as it fired at them. The surprise to all was how professional the Taliban gunners seemed. One leapt down when his truck was hit, then jumped back onto the seat of the gun to fire more. It was the same for the surviving Taliban fighters.