By Sgt. Brandon Aird, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 1, 2007 - The tense paratroopers and Afghan National Army soldiers sat in silence surrounded by darkness. The previous hours were spent huddled together rehearsing the mission, "Destined Strike", which was to be an air-assault into the Taliban's backyard.
The whoop, whoop, whoop sound of the CH-47 "Chinook" helicopter's rotary wings reverberated in the soldiers' ears drowning out all chance of another sound. Some of the soldiers said last minute prayers while others day dreamed of loved ones back home. Squad leaders made last minute checks in the dark.
When the Chinook landed all thoughts came to the task at hand. The soldiers jumped off the noisy helicopter onto a quiet, moon-lit mountain above the Chowkay Valley in Kunar province. The mountain is over 7,000 feet above sea level.
The Taliban's biggest advantage in past fire fights has been their ability to dominate the high ground, but not this time.
Soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team's 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment and elements of the Afghan National Army's 2nd Kandak, 201st Corps, conducted Operation Destined Strike August 21-25. The U.S. soldiers were members of the 2nd platoons of the 2nd Battalion's A, C and D companies.
"We came here to show the local populace that coalition forces aren't afraid to come into the Chowkay Valley," said Army 1st Lt. Kareem F. Hernandez, Company A 2nd Platoon leader.
After the initial insertion, the soldiers pulled security and waited for daybreak. During the night, they searched with night vision devices for 15 individuals spotted earlier near their position by an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Once dawn broke, the U.S. and Afghan soldiers put their gear-laden rucksacks on, and broke trail down the mountain to the first farming village. The village and fields were hand cut out of the mountain side.
Hernandez said he was surprised at the reaction he received from the first villager he encountered.
"It was the first time in this country I had someone admit he knew who the Taliban were. He showed me where they had been coming through to attack us," Hernandez said. "I've never had that happen before. They always act like they have no clue what I'm talking about."
Hernandez learned the Taliban in the area were from the Korengal Valley. The trip from the Korengal Valley to the Chowkay Valley takes the insurgents two to three hours, according the local villager.
As Company A's 2nd Platoon continued to the next village, rain started falling, along with bolts of lightning. During the ensuing storm, Taliban fighters attacked Company A's landing zone, which was now occupied by the company commander and an overwatch element.
"They took small arms-fire and two RPG's from the northwest," Hernandez said.
In response, soldiers fired small-arms, 120mm mortars and 155mm artillery at the Taliban positions. The soldiers called in for air support, and fighter jets dropped four 500-pound bombs on enemy positions, ending any plans the Taliban had to move the soldiers from their position.
After the short fire fight, Hernandez's platoon and C Company's 2nd Platoon spent the next few days moving to their extraction point for pick up by a helicopter.
On their way, Hernandez's platoon suffered three heat causalities. The difficult terrain, extreme weather conditions, and carrying extra ammunition, food and water was having its toll on the soldiers. When one soldier fell out, another picked up his gear while the stricken soldier recovered and was examined by a medic.
After five days on the mountain, however, every soldier who jumped out of the helicopter as a part of Operation Destined Strike jumped back on the helicopter without help when the mission was complete.
(Sgt. Brandon Aird is a journalist assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.)