Editor’s note: Reporter Matt Sanchez, currently embedding with military units throughout both Iraq and Afghanistan, has been providing WND readers with a glimpse into the war on terror most Americans have never seen.
Lt. Col. Brian Mennes speaks to his soldiers before the air assault.
KANDAHAR AIRBASE, Afghanistan –American soldiers from Task Force 1-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, using Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters, just participated in one of the largest air assaults in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.
It was Dec. 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, and these U.S. infantrymen were taking part in Operation Mar Karadad, their particular contribution to the fight being an air assault on the Taliban-dominated district of Musa Qala in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
Although the Musa Qala area of operations belongs to British forces stationed nearby in the Bastian Forward Operating Base, Task Force 1-508th – nicknamed the Red Devils, and who fight under the motto “Fury from the Sky” – launched its attack from the Canadian-controlled Kandahar Air Field, or KAF, in the neighboring province of Kandahar.
The district of Musa Qala is a small commercial center peppered with traditional Afghan calats – living quarters of entire Afghan communities surrounded by an outer wall and forming a compound. Helmand Province is known for being the world leader for the cultivation of poppies, an opiate flower seasonally harvested by local farmers to produce heroin. Sales from heroin have bankrolled Taliban violence, as members of this Islamic terrorist movement have sought to usurp the federal government of President Hamid Karzai.
The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, is a United Nations-mandated coalition force under NATO command. Although more than 39 nations take part in the coalition, only a minority are capable of taking part in such offensive combat operations.
“ISAF’s key military tasks include assisting the Afghan government in extending its authority across the country,” says the official NATO website. The Afghan National Army, or ANA, is spearheading the operation in Musa Qala proper, as coalition forces fall back to cordon off the traffic coming in and out of the area of concentration.
Members of Task Force 1-508th board a Chinook helicopter
“We are here to support the Afghan National Army,” said Task Force Corsair Commander Lt. Col. Jason Altieri, a helicopter aviator himself. The current operation is the latest military action in what appears to be a strategy of challenging the Taliban more aggressively.
“The enemy was dictating where the fighting is, when it should be the other way around,” stated Task Force Corsair intelligence officer 1st Lt. Andrea Anthony, a West Point graduate on her first tour of Afghanistan. The air assault – which Airborne soldiers call a deliberate, for “deliberate operations” – has been in intense planning for several months. However, given the recent history of Musa Calat, members of the 82nd Airborne staff were confident the Taliban knew they were coming – eventually.
VIDEO: Soldiers load a helicopter with equipment to re-supply military personnel in the field
In September 2006, after an upswing in violence, the death of several soldiers and a Dutch withdrawal of forces, British military authorities came to a unilateral truce with Musa Calat Afghan elders.
“I fully acknowledge that we could be being duped – that the Taliban may be buying time to reconstitute and regenerate. But every day that there is no fighting, the power moves to the hands of the tribal elders who are turning to the government of Afghanistan for security and development,” said former commander of British forces in Helmand, Brigadier Gen. Ed Butler in September of last year, during an interview with the Telegraph.
VIDEO: Missions for Task Force Corsair crews run the gamut, but they all have one thing in common, they’re dangerous
The American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, quickly criticized the deal: “There is a lot of nervousness about who the truce was made with, who the arrangement was made with, and whether it will hold.”
A year later that question has been answered.
“For some period of time, Musa Qala has become a base for terrorists,” Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said last week. “Hundreds of foreign terrorists have gathered there.”
Members of the Taliban boasted of holding ground and occupying territory. They even invited the international press to come visit the town under Taliban control. Meanwhile, the Afghan National Army has taken the brunt of the violence as the Taliban targets soldiers for assassination.
Members of the 82nd All American Dustoff Medevac Detachment stand round the clock as a quick reaction force, or QRF, to move injured Afghans off the battlefield and into the Kandahar Air Field Hospital run by the Canadian military. Helicopters are the primary means of transporting the wounded, due to the poor roads and to the fact that the Canadian ambulance unit will not leave the confines of the airbase.
Task Force 1-508th members on Chinook helicopter
Three major explosions were heard the day of the assault, while deaths and casualties remain unconfirmed.
Maj. David Hanselmann, an 18-year Army veteran and professional historian, led the 305th Military History Detachment to witness the operation. The history detachment was formed to preserve the accounts and actions of servicemen and women during a time of war.
“Musa Qala is surrounded by our forces now and NATO air forces are striking some targets in the district,” said Gen. Mohammd Zahir Azimi, a spokeman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
Images courtesy of Master Sgt. Richard Gribenas
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Matt Sanchez, originally from California, is a New York City-based writer currently embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq. His work has appeared in the New York Post, National Review and the Weekly Standard.
A corporal in the United States Marine Corps Reserve and a student at Columbia University where he’s working on degree in American Studies, Sanchez says his mission in Iraq is “to report on the stories that matter the most, first-person accounts by the men and women on the ground.” His blog, Matt-Sanchez.com, chronicles his work.