Our U.S. Army Rangers still aren't allowed to talk publicly about Operation
Anaconda, fought last March in Afghanistan, probably because the Op proved
in spades how out of touch the top brass are with counter-guerrilla tactics.
I suspect the Secrecy Act is being employed once again to protect bad
generals - at the cost of telling our countrymen the truth about an
extraordinary mission conducted by the men of the 1st Platoon of Alpha
Company, 1/75th Rangers.
Eyewitness reports I've stitched together from allied commandos testify to
that platoon's daring and heroism while rescuing teammates and aircrew from
a downed chopper as they were about to be snuffed out by a ferocious enemy.
Earlier, the platoon had been spread across the battlefield on separate
missions. When word came down to find MIA Navy SEAL Neil Roberts, the lead
element air-assaulted, its chopper was shot to smithereens upon landing, and
the Rangers and aircrew were stuck on a rocky ridge surrounded by a large,
well-dug-in al-Qaeda force.
Because of blistering enemy incoming fire, a 1st Platoon reinforcing element
landed by chopper at the base of the mountain, about a mile from the
besieged warriors. The 10 men began clawing their way toward the top -
loaded down with 100 pounds of kit - on what would prove to be a 5,000-foot,
almost-vertical three-hour climb. And throughout this near
mission-impossible feat, they were battered by enemy rifle and mortar fire
that wounded several of these elite warriors.
When the Rangers got to the top, they busted through the enemy's bunker line
and linked up with their surrounded mates. But they soon found themselves
waist-high in snow, the thermometer hovering around zero, in an increasingly
hotter frying pan - with incoming RPG grenades, recoilless rifle fire,
mortars thumping in and bullets snapping like angry bees across the open
plain at 12,000 feet.
An SAS commando who watched the fight said, "These blokes, along with their
tactical aircraft and chopper air support, killed a bloody lot of them."
Apart from their own incredible guts, the air support - virtually on top of
them - is what kept them alive. If USAF air controller Staff Sgt. Kevin
Vance wasn't on the ground bravely directing the fire, it would have been
taps for all these good men. (Editor's Note: See "For the Record: Account of
Gardez Battle, March 4, 2002" in this edition of DefenseWatch.)
Ranger Marc Anderson said, "This is where all the training pays off," before
catching one with his name on it while bounding toward the enemy. Ranger
Bradley Crose was hit in the head by a round that smashed under his helmet
and out the back of his head, and Ranger Matthew Commons went down for the
count as well. Air Force warrior Jason Cunningham was hit by two rounds in
the gut and lay out in the bitter cold - slowly bleeding to death.
When the Ranger rifles were shot up, had malfunctioned or the men ran out of
ammo, the Rangers policed up al-Qaeda weapons and waded into the fanatics,
wasting them with their own bullets. For almost 18 long, blood-soaked hours,
it was often hand-to-hand fighting with knives, pistols and rifle butts.
That terrible night, the Rangers were supported by USAF AC-130 Specter
gunships that, according to an Aussie SAS commando on a nearby knob, lit up
the hills around them. "It was bloody amazing, the most beautiful - yet
fearsome - sight I'd ever seen," he said.
The entire action was relayed by Predator drone to the White House, the
Pentagon and the generals whose flawed plan got our kids into FUBAR-plus in
the first place. The spectators could watch in comfort and safety while our
courageous Rangers fought and died and another squad fell wounded. But those
who were hit never faltered, continuing to put heavy fire on the enemy in
the fierce kind of combat and freezing conditions our forces haven't seen
since the Korean War.
Marc Anderson used to tell his buddies he was leaving the 1st Platoon $5,000
to celebrate the good times if he checked out. Upon their return to Fort
Stewart, Ga., they were stunned to learn he wasn't kidding. Hopefully, it
won't be long before they'll be lifting a few to him and the other
extraordinary men they - and we - lost during one of the most heroic
small-unit fights in U.S. history.
http://www.hackworth.com is the address of David Hackworth's home page. Send
mail to P.O. Box 11179, Greenwich, CT 06831. Look for his new book, "Steel
My Soldiers' Hearts," (Rugged Land LLC, New York City).
© 2002 David H. Hackworth