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The Halloween Gunfight

NOTE: All people, road names, and outpost names have been changes for operational security reasons and to protect those involved in the battle.

By Joseph Kassabian

Kandahar, Afghanistan. Soldiers rolled back into the small outpost in their towering armored trucks from a long patrol in the unbroken darkness that only a city with no electrical grid can provide. Soldiers jumped out of the trucks lighting long needed cigarettes and running to the bathroom. After only a few minutes of respite an officer that the squad was transporting, one of the few people to stay in the vehicles and so still be able to listen to the radio peeked his head outside of the truck. “Hey, where’s the ACS (Area Control Station) at?” he asked. “Right down the street, why?” Answered a soldier who was smoking next to the truck, taking his gear off. “It’s under attack.” Immediately soldiers started running back to the trucks, mounting weapons and putting gear back on. The squad leader ‘Two’ ran into the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to get permission to leave the outpost and support the ACS. With the trucks back in order and at the gate, they were waiting for authorization. “It felt like hours, but really it was only ten or fifteen minutes.” A soldier remembered, finally Two came running out of the TOC with our Platoon Leader ‘Six’ and jumped in his truck. The vehicles turned out of the small, cramped, dusty outpost and roared down the road. Minutes past that felt like an eternity, the squad rolled past the ACS, the outpost’s guard towers had finished engaging Taliban fighters only seconds before. The squad pulled down the road into a small, dingy gas station to regroup and contact those inside of the ACS.

Seconds later gunfire filled the air once again. A disheveled looking Afghan National Policeman (ANP) ran up to ‘Charlie’ who was outside of his truck at the time, screaming and yelling in Pashto. After a few minutes of frustration Charlie managed to get the interpreter to translate for him, the ANP was screaming about an attack on their checkpoint, just down the road. Two ordered all the trucks turn back around and go down a very small road, just wide enough for the vehicles, but it was also the only way to the besieged ANP checkpoint. The trucks crawled down the small road, drivers were on a knifes edge, one wrong move and the vehicle would plummet into a deep canal. Two and Delta got out of the trucks, walking behind the slow moving convoy to clear behind several small buildings that were around the gas station, when they walked about twenty meters away from the convoy all hell broke loose.

Three Taliban fighters later identified to be a high valued target and two of his men, opened fire from three different positions using automatic weapons. They quickly pinned down the two stranded soldiers behind a small concrete wall, unable to advance or retreat from their positions, Two ordered the convoy to back up, the armor and heavy weapons were badly needed for the outgunned soldiers behind the wall. The radio crackled to life, one soldier remembers “They were screaming, everyone was screaming, ‘insurgent seventy-five meters!’ and ‘holy shit they’re everywhere!’ then I froze when Two yelled ‘fifty meters!’” Other soldiers started jumping out of the trucks to go and help the two soldiers; they too immediately came under fire. Charlie and Alpha got pinned down on the small dirt road before they could move, using their trucks as cover. Not knowing this Six ordered the trucks to keep backing up to support Two and Delta. “Stop moving the trucks!” Charlie screamed, “I’m getting contact, I’m using the truck for cover!” the vehicles were effectively stuck on the dirt road; they would stay there the rest of the engagement.

Flares lit up the unbroken night sky, shot off from the guard towers of the ACS. “I thought the flares were RPGs the Taliban were firing at us, me and Two hit the dirt.” Recalled Delta with a laugh. The two sides were so close that the towers couldn’t tell them apart, silencing their heavy weapons. Two and Delta, twenty minutes in were still stranded behind a wall, which was getting smaller by the minute due to enemy bullets. Empty magazines and one full, lay around their feet. Two remembers “Tracers were flashing past us, snaps and cracks were all we could hear. A bullet past so close to Delta’s head that he fell like a sack of shit. I thought he was hit so I screamed for a medic, then he rolled over and kept shooting” He laughed. “It was fucking crazy.”

After over thirty minutes two Kiowa Warrior attack helicopters arrived on scene, the mere sound of the blades whirling overhead scared off the gunmen, who fled into the nearby villages knowing the helicopters would leave them alone in the populated area. Two, Delta, Charlie, and Alpha finally made their way back into the safety of their vehicles. The trucks finally, slowly, made their way back onto the paved road. Not only breaking an attack on an American base, but also an Afghan base, and almost killing a wanted Taliban commander. The solders drove home counting their blessings and getting ready for another day in Kandahar.

This fight was an odd one. So late in the year in a war were ‘fighting seasons’ are a reality. Taliban come out of hiding in the spring and normally only operate until August or September, fighting past them is almost unheard of. As the war slowly grinds to a stop, with Obama announcing a pull out in 2014. The major security changeovers all over Afghanistan continue to bolster the Taliban’s resolve, the more land that is controlled by the Afghan government, is more land that they can operate in without U.S. interference. It probably won’t be long before the government and the Taliban are one entity once again.

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