UPDATED 4 April 2011

Lessons Learned: Put the "Mountain" Back in the 10th Mountain Division



By Cincinnatus for SOF magazine

AUTHORS NOTE: We know its easy to criticize and SOF certainly doesn't want to appear to be a Monday-morning quarterback. However, information from U.S. forces at Kandahar and Bagram Air Fields tells us that Operation ANACONDA mission planners violated just about every rule of the tactics manuals: underestimating the enemy's strength and capabilities, over-reliance on air power for support, transport, and resupply in a high-mountain environment, lack of adequate preparatory and supporting fires, separation of forces, lack of mutual support between units well, the list is extensive. As you'll see in this article the entire operation seemed in danger of failure from the moment the troops loaded the helicopters. It was only the determination and professionalism of the troops on the ground and the leadership at the lower echelons that salvaged something from a flawed plan. It is disturbing to SOF that the mission planners had to re-learn fundamental tactical lessons. Company-grade and junior field-grade officers (the guys who bite the bullet down in the platoons, companies, and battalions when the colonels and generals screw- up) would have good reason to be very critical of some of their commanders and especially the mission planners at Division-and Brigade-level. Unfortunately, eight U.S. servicemen died and more than 40 were wounded executing a plan that initially just didnt work. The author, long-known by SOF, has assumed a nom de guerre to protect his sources.

The mission of OP ANACONDA was to destroy the last identified concentration of al-Qaeda and Taliban troops in Eastern Afghanistan. Intelligence indicated that several hundred enemy had gathered around the town of Sherkankel in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, an extremely mountainous region (Hindu Kush mountain range) immediately west of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. The operational area contained the town of Sherkankel in the valley, with a 10,000-foot feature dubbed the Whale's Back on the west side of the valley, and the 10,000-to-12,000-foot Shah-i-Kot mountain range on the East side. Intelligence based on overhead imagery and strategic reconnaissance (Special Operations Forces) indicated that the enemy were located in the valley in and around the town of Sherkankel.

Based on this intelligence, an operations plan was issued ordering two U.S. battalions (2nd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division and 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division) to conduct an air assault to occupy blocking positions in the Shah-i-Kot mountain passes and seal-off the enemy's escape routes east from the valley towards Pakistan. Once the blocking positions were established, an Afghan force advised and supported by special operations forces would sweep south down the valley into Sherkankel, and drive the enemy east towards the U.S. battalions holding the high ground: a classic hammer-anvil plan of attack. Unfortunately, it fell apart almost immediately.

The U.S. intelligence estimates of the enemy's strength, capabilities and locations in the Shah-i-Kot Valley were inaccurate. Perceived rag-tag remnants numbering in the several hundreds were actually about 1,000 determined and well-equipped al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters many of them foreigners (Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs, Pakistanis) with nothing to lose. Furthermore, the main enemy positions werent in the valley town of Sherkankel they were dug into caves and rock bunkers (sangars) along the ridgelines of the Whale's Back and the Shah-i-Kot mountain range, both of which overlooked the valley from the high ground in a classic horse-shoe defense exactly where any novice tactician would have surmised the enemy would be located (especially based on the historical precedence of basic Afghan tactics).

Looked Good On Paper

The blocking battalions had to land on the forward slopes of the Shah-i-Kot mountain range because there were no better helicopter Landing Zones (LZs). This exposed the helicopters and their cargo of infantrymen to direct observation and fire from the Whale's Back, the town of Sherkankel, and the top of the Shah-i-Kot range itself. The planners of this mission expected the troops to move uphill into their blocking positions while in full view of the enemy. Only two LZs were used one at the north end of the Shah-i-Kot range for the 2nd Bn, 3rd Bde, 101st Airborne and the other at the south end for the 1st Bn, 2nd Bde, 10th Mountain. The two LZs were separated by about 8 kilometers of steep, rocky, mountain ridgeline. If either battalion ran into trouble on their LZ there would be little, if any, chance of link-up or mutual support. Who came up with this brilliant scheme of maneuver?

To avoid collateral damage and maintain the element of surprise, there would be no prior bombardment of the (incorrectly) identified enemy positions. Instead, the air assault would go in cold. Not a good idea. When did they start teaching this at Fort Benning or Command and General Staff College? Nor would units deploy their battalion mortars for indirect fire support. No problem, said the head-shed, we've got eight Apache attack helicopters and Close-Air Support (CAS) for fire support. The operations order called for complete dependence on air assets for all fire support. The helicopters, at the limit of their operational ceiling, were flying in mountains with the possibility of imminent bad weather.

These fundamental planning and tactical errors alone paint a different picture of Operation ANACONDA than the Pentagon briefers and General Tommy Franks have given the public.

On Day 1 of the operation, helicopters approached the LZs in the late afternoon. There were no preparatory fires or airstrikes on the LZs. Upon landing on the two LZs on the exposed slope of the Shah-i-Kot ridge, they came under immediate and intense enemy fire from prepared defensive positions sited above and all around them. Incoming fire consisted of everything from small arms to mortars and heavy machine guns, firing with interlocking arcs from both the top of the Shah-i-Kot and across the valley from the Whale's Back. The Apache attack helicopters attempted to suppress the numerous enemy positions and four of the eight were immediately damaged by RPG and machine-gun fire. The damaged aircraft flew back to the Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Bagram Airfield (north of Kabul) an hour away. So much for direct-fire support from aviation in Afghanistan. This is something the Soviets learned the hard way and Major General Frank Hagenbeck should have learned the easy way by studying the Soviet lessons learned. Didn't anyone read about the Air Cav in Vietnam?

Both battalions managed to land on their respective LZs, in the low ground, thus exposed to direct- and indirect-fire from the surrounding enemy positions on the high ground. The 2nd Bn, 3rd Bde, 101st Airborne secured their initial objective at the north end of the Shah-i-Kot ridgeline, but continued to take enemy fire from the Whale's Back across the valley, pinning them down. They couldn't move south down the ridgeline to their assigned blocking positions. The 1st Bn, 2nd Bde, 10th Mountain on the southern LZ had a tougher time. One of their Chinook helicopters was hit and crash-landed near the 2nd Bn, 3rd Bde, 101st Airbornes LZ. Pinned down in their LZ by enemy fire, the battalion from the 10th Mountain declared its LZ "untenable" and requested extraction. They occupied the LZ in a defensive perimeter under heavy enemy fire throughout the night and were extracted the next morning back to the FOB.

Day 1 was a failure, plain and simple. Neither battalion had occupied its blocking positions. The anvil was not in position. The enemy escape routes east through the Shah-i-Kot range to Pakistan were wide open. In addition to the four damaged Apaches and a crashed Chinook, a second Chinook was shot down at the southern LZ; eight Americans were killed in action and another 40 or so wounded. The weather turned bad, negatively impacting air support for the next 24 hours. As one infantry officer involved in the operation sarcastically remarked, "Bad weather in the mountains? Who would have expected that?" The Allied Afghan movement-to-contact, south down the valley into Sherkankel, went awry when they took heavy small-arms fire from the village, suffered about 30 casualties, and immediately retreated. For approximately the next 48 hours, Operation ANACONDA ceased, as Brigade and Divisional commanders and operations officers attempted to salvage what appeared to be a complete disaster.

Grunts Save The Op, But Planners Lose The Enemy

When the weather cleared the mission planners reverted to their default solution: Airpower will save the day. For approximately the next 24 hours U.S. airpower carpet-bombed enemy positions on the Whale's Back and all along the Shah-i-Kot mountain range with everything in the U.S. arsenal short of cruise missiles. Eventually, it was decided to use the battalion position on the north end of the Shah-i-Kot range as a firm base, push south down the ridgeline to clear out the enemy positions, and try to occupy the original blocking positions. The reconstituted battalion from the 10th Mountain Division and a second battalion from 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division were flown into what was termed the "firm base", and started an advance down the mountain range assisted by heavy-air and attack-helicopter support.

Massive air support suppressing remaining enemy positions on the Whale's Back across the valley, and the personal efforts of the infantrymen on the ground in those maneuver battalions, overcame poor planning and organization and got the job done. While the two infantry battalions were seizing their original objectives, the Afghan forces, rallied by their SF advisors, took the town of Sherkankel. Of course, the hammer and anvil were too late.

Rather than sit still for a week and await certain defeat in a battle plan implemented days before, most of the enemy had withdrawn east across the Pakistani border. A small rear guard remained to delay. The blocking positions eventually occupied by the three U.S. infantry battalions didn't block anything the enemy was gone.

Observers on the ground, all infantry officers, say the air assault on Day 1 by 2nd Bn, 3rd Bde, 101st Airborne, and 1st Bn, 2nd Bde, 10th Mountain did not go well. According to one field-grade officer, To be brutally honest, the enemy gave them quite a spanking. I have to tell you, as the first reports of casualties and downed helicopters were coming back to us from the initial assault, all everyone could think about was Blackhawk Down! It looked that bad.

On 9 March, a week after Operation ANACONDA commenced, a Canadian battle group, the 3rd Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI), opconned to the 3rd Bde Rakassans 101st Airborne, received orders to join 2nd Brigade 10th Mountain Division for combat operations as part of OP ANACONDA. The 3 PPCLI was ordered to clear the Whale's Back mountain on the Western side of the Shah-i-Kot Valley of an estimated 60-100 enemy holdouts dug-in or hiding in caves, and then conduct Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE), i.e. searches of all caves and enemy fighting positions. The SSE tasking meant a detailed sweep over a linear mountain ranging in elevation from 6,500 feet (at the base) to 10,000 feet at the spine; that is, 7 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide. The final phase of Operation ANACONDA was to sweep the Whale's Back was named Operation HARPOON.

The 3PPCLI launched a battalion-strength air assault against the Whale's Back shortly after first light (0730 hours local time) on 13 March, inserting via CH-47 Chinook helicopter into a single-ship LZ at the northern end of the mountain. USMC Super Cobra attack helicopters, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and Predator unmanned surveillance aircraft provided close air support. F-18 Hornet and A-10 Warthog jets were available on stand-by. B-52s conducted round-the-clock carpet-bombing of suspected enemy positions on the eastern side of the valley.

Whither Close Air Support?

A-10s do not have legal authorization to drop jellied gasoline aka ("napalm") anymore to reach out into the rocks and crags where enemies hide like we used to do in previous wars. We don't even have aircraft that can deliver non-lethal smokescreens to temporarily shield our landing forces from enemy fires. What ordnance we can bring to bear is not directed by an Airborne Forward Air Control (AFAC) plane like we used to have with enlisted Army observers...



There were few enemy left on the Whale's Back, and the aggressive Canadians promptly engaged them with anti-tank rockets and small-arms fire, killing three. Moving tactically at 10,000 feet with full combat loads through mountain terrain, it was fortunate that the Canadians were veterans of cold-weather and mountain training. They spent five days clearing enemy positions and searching more than 30 caves; a dangerous business fraught with booby-traps, mines, and possible ambushes on the Whale's Back. They found large caches of ammunition and equipment, collected intelligence documents and maps, and searched a few dead al-Qaeda killed in the airstrikes.

The Canadian infantrymen were extracted by helicopter on 17 and 18 March bringing Operation ANACONDA/Operation HARPOON to a close.

In light of the self-congratulatory pronouncements made by Major General Hagenbeck, General Franks, and others, its doubtful the full extent of the ineptitude at Division- and Brigade-levels will ever be exposed fully (unless one of the battalion commanders retires and writes his memoirs). The failure to fully disclose the operations shortcomings and the predilection of the senior leadership to paint a rosy picture of a great success has impacted morale only slightly. The troops, NCOs, and lower-ranking officers are used to such posturing and cover-ups by the upper echelons. Given the obvious tactical blunders and poor planning, Operation ANACONDA was a failure. Was it a complete failure? Maybe not, but neither was it an unqualified success.

It was inevitable that some enemy would escape, but hundreds were KIA by airpower over the eight-day bombing operation, while the infantry battalions were trying to fight their way south along the eastern ridgeline of the Shah-i-Kot to secure the blocking positions. The enemys combat power in the region and his stockpile of arms was destroyed. The enemy personnel that escaped were stragglers and small groups of disorganized survivors forced to abandon most of their heavy weapons.

As one squad leader has said, "We didn't get em all, but we messed em up good."

Cincinnatus is a former U.S. Army infantry officer with experience on battalion and brigade staffs, and experience in Afghanistan.


"We don't do mountains": British officers will not criticise the U.S. forces, but, discovers Julian Manyon, the GIs are full of surprises

Bagram airbase, Afghanistan

It is often by accident that one makes the most surprising discoveries. I was driving with 'Bud', a slightly pudgy American Soldier, through the Bagram airbase, now transformed from derelict battlefield into the sprawling headquarters of the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. All around us baggy-uniformed troops queued at meal tents or whizzed past in oversized jeeps and vehicles that looked like militarised golf carts. Massively muscled Special Forces troops in designer sunglasses manned a heavy machine gun in front of the PX, while ferocious-looking female Soldiers with the build of prop forwards and carrying grenade launchers guarded the runway. Beside me, Bud grazed continuously on the half-empty packets of barbecue-flavour crisps and honey-roasted peanuts which littered his vehicle. On his shoulder he wore a patch which said "Mountain", the emblem of the 10th Mountain Division, one of the first American units sent to this extremely mountainous country. So to make conversation, I inquired about his mountain-warfare training. "No sir, we don't do that", Bud declared in a masticatory pause. "We don't do mountains".

I thought my hearing must be at fault, so I asked the question again but received the same reply. The 10th Mountain Division is based at Syracuse, New York, he told me, and normally never goes anywhere near mountains. Still doubting this startling intelligence about a unit which has been described in both the American and the British press as mountain-warfare specialists, I sought out their press officer who confirmed that Bud's account was correct.

U.S. over-reliance on airstrike Firepower

The B-1B has a great record of staying aloft to provide stand-off, distant air support (SODAS) but is extremely expensive to operate and not likely to be available to all Army maneuver units

The division takes its name from a second world war unit that did 'do' mountains, but such training was discontinued years ago. 'We've had a lot of practice recently, though,' the press officer told me brightly. Indeed they have. Troops from the Mountain Division bore much of the brunt of the recent Operation ANACONDA, in which, despite awesome U.S. firepower, the assault troops ran into trouble on the ground. More than half the 47 wounded suffered by the Americans were from the 10th Mountain (the eight who died were all Special Forces) and, according to one officer, troops ferried by helicopter to a high ridge had to sit down for half-an-hour before they could move in the thin air. For all the media hoopla, ANACONDA failed to encircle and crush the Islamic diehards who still infest the mountain region straddling the Pakistan border, and who appear to nourish hopes of mounting a long-term guerrilla war.

All this at least explains why the Pentagon is happy to see our Royal Marine Commandos shoulder some of the burden. Despite debate in the British press over whether our boys have trained at high enough altitudes for a country in which the grandest peaks reach almost 25,000 feet compared with 15,000 feet in the Alps, there can be no doubt that they do "do" mountains. Physically, the contrast between the British and the American troops is subtle but striking. The men of the 10th Mountain are often big and seem more or less fit, but to my eye at least they lack the honed edge of real combat troops. The marines, by contrast, are sometimes smaller men, but they have the rugged, self-confident sturdiness that speaks of months of training in the most demanding conditions, and they carry their weapons as if they mean business [Editor: infantry weapons will need to win the fight not firepower from someone else ie; air strikes].

British officers are at pains to cast no aspersions on the fighting qualities of the American ally they have come to assist, though they do hint at a slightly different tactical approach. U.S. bombing is lauded for its power and high-tech "accuracy". One British officer grinned with what appeared to be a certain relish as he told me that the Americans could, if required, land a bomb on the exact spot where I was standing next to my vehicle. But asked if the British troops will follow American doctrine and mount their assaults only after saturation bombing, the answer appeared to be no.

Maneuver needed to locate and destroy elusive enemies in mountainous terrain

"Remember Malaya," said the officer. "What we did there seemed to work, and Northern Ireland too. We have a great tradition in this sort of warfare". He was sphinx-like on detail but the reference appeared to be to the careful collection of intelligence among the local population allied with tactical surprise. Not far away RAF mechanics were working on the small fleet of Chinook helicopters that will ferry the Royal Marines into combat. They tested mysterious attachments designed to neutralise enemy missiles, while the pilots waited to practise the low-flying skills on which many operations will depend.

A long period of cat-and-mouse in the Afghan mountains may well be required: both the future of the country and the final balance-sheet of this campaign against terrorism remain to be defined. The Taleban have been swept from power but still seem to command a residual loyalty in some Pushtun areas. Indeed, the graves of some of the Taleban fighters who died in Operation ANACONDA have been turned into a local shrine. And what was once the all-important objective of mounting Osama bin Laden's head on a pole is these days scarcely mentioned.

But, without that sort of symbolic success, resistance by Taleban and al-Qa'eda ultras may persist and even grow, while there remain strong doubts about the ability of the warlord-riven interim government, or whatever succeeds it, to control a unified country. The Americans can take some satisfaction in their choice of interim Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, who cuts a plausible, even sympathetic, figure. But one only has to look to either side of him at the hardened, cynical faces of some of his Northern Alliance ministers to see the mafiotic influences that are still doing their best to pull the strings.


After the recent earthquake in northern Afghanistan, while international aid workers appealed for helicopters to carry out the injured, Afghan military commanders were touting their aircraft to foreign journalists, offering trips to the disaster area for thousands of dollars a time. Meanwhile, the efforts to form a national army - or, to give its preferred title, a National Guard - has run into some telling difficulties. By the time this article appears, the first 600-strong battalion of this force will have held its passing-out parade after weeks of intensive training by British troops from the Isaf peacekeeping force. But, according to an Afghan source who has been closely involved in the training programme, substantial numbers of them intend to quit the ranks as soon as they have graduated. "Why should I stay in this army?" my source reported one of them as saying. "Back home I am a commander. I have cars, I have businesses and 100 men who follow me. I wouldn't stay in this army if you paid me thousands of dollars a week."

The difficulties appear to stem from the feudal anarchy of Afghanistan and, in particular, from the methods by which the 600 were selected. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the Afghan ministry of defence, which was responsible for recruitment, spread the word among its forces that the 600 would be flown to Britain for training. Such was the allure of this idea that many local commanders - leaders of the countless armed bands which make up the pro-government forces - decided to reserve this plum assignment for themselves. The commanders duly assembled in Kabul, only to be told that it had always been Isaf's intention to train them in the Afghan capital. There was further dismay when the men realised that British military training does not include the languid lunches and long naps normally enjoyed by the Afghan condottieri but involves repeated drill and such unpleasantnesses as crawling on one's stomach under barbed wire. According to my source, disciplinary problems were resolved skilfully and effectively by the British trainers, and the Afghans decided to stay the course 'because otherwise we will be seen as failures in our villages'. But it remains to be seen if Isaf has created the core of an effective national army or merely a better class of cut-throat.

Meanwhile, I have been able to contemplate the recent, tragic history of Afghanistan from the comfort of a former Soviet army interrogation centre now converted by an enterprising businessman into a somewhat eccentric guesthouse. The Hotel Mustafa in Kabul boasts bars on all doors and windows, and barred partitions, fortunately left open, in the corridor to the shared toilet. Who knows what atrocities took place here, though with the spring sunshine streaming through the bars it is an oddly cheerful place, and I may even miss it when I move to a tent in the alternate mud and dust of Bagram to await the start of British military operations.

Julian Manyon is Asia correspondent of ITV News. This article is also reproduced for ITV News online and can be seen in 'Location reports' at www.itv.com/news


ANACONDA: Absolute Success, or Wake-Up Call?

By Gary R. Stahlhut

Now that the dust has settled with regards to Operation ANACONDA, I believe this is the time to start writing a truthful and detailed after operations report. Since I was not directly involved in this operation I can only write about what I have observed, read about, or been told happened. We cannot only rely on official reports of the operation, since the information was controlled and censored, thus making it imperative to produce accurate and honest appraisals of what happened to our troops, especially AARs from the 10th Mountain Division. The conclusions derived from the lessons learned during this operation must be used to improve our training and our command and control procedures.

Operation Ananconda was designed to encircle and destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban troops who had been infiltrating in to the caves and valleys of the mountainous region of Shah e Tot. Much like the mountainous area of Tora Bora, this region was also being used to store weapons and hide enemy troops in a multitude of caves and tunnels built into the mountains.

Operation ANACONDA incorporated the use of blocking forces to avoid repeating the mistake of leaving the back door open, as happened during the Tora Bora campaign when most of the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters infiltrated out of the area before being captured or killed. Operation ANACONDA was fought by 1,500 Soldiers at altitudes of 10,000 feet and more, making this operation one of the highest altitudes at which U.S. combat forces have fought in since World War II. Infantry from the 101st Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, U.S. Special Forces, and Afghan allies fought gut-busting infantry combat which has not been seen since the war in Vietnam.

Operation ANACONDA required infantry to pack in what they needed to fight and survive, the use of helicopters was very limited in the mountains due to the altitude and amount of ground fire thrown up against them.

The high altitude caused immense problems for the men of 10th Mountain Division, which, despite its name, is not trained for mountain warfare. Many Soldiers suffered from altitude sickness, cold weather exposure, muscle failure, and weapons failures. To be fair, despite the 10th Mountain Division's best efforts, they were not trained or prepared to fight a prolonged mountain campaign. While division elements had earlier seen combat most notably in support of the 1993 Task Force Ranger relief in Mogadishu, most of the division's missions of the past decade were in support of peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Haiti and Bosnia.

I believe that the results of Operation ANACONDA give strong support to actually make the 10th Mountain Division, a true Mountain Division. The "Mountain" tab should be a qualification tab, not just another [unit] shoulder tab. Each Soldier should go through a mountain school (much like Ranger School) and be awarded the tab only if they graduate, to be able to serve in the division. This includes the division support troops. Operation ANACONDA will certainly not be the last time we will have to fight an enemy in mountainous terrain.



The war in Afghanistan is fast becoming a guerilla war, which cannot be measured by declaring each military operation an absolute success or by how many enemy we kill. Reporting estimates of enemy dead makes good headlines, but as we found out in Vietnam, our enemies are not only willing to sacrifice themselves in battle against us, their strategy is also to outlast our will to continue to fight them.

Success in a guerilla war is not won by any one battle or military operation. Guerillas will seldom welcome pitched battles against a superior enemy, but will use tactics that minimize the superiority of their enemy and maximize their own strengths. They will strike when they can achieve surprise, achieve a tactical advantage and inflict as much damage as possible before retreating from the area before their enemy can react against them. The guerilla will use hostile terrain against us, including jungles, mountains and urban areas. The battles in Somalia almost a decade ago, the battles we have recently fought in Afghanistan and the Israeli punitive actions in Palestinian West Bank cities are a testament to the wars of the future.

Success at beating the guerilla was is not measured by how many of them are killed, it is ultimately crushing the guerilla's ability to sustain and wage a war without having any impact of the government, or the people who live in the area of the insurgency. This takes time and it also takes the will to fight the guerilla until he is defeated.

This is why I do not agree with the initial Pentagon and press assessment that Operation ANACONDA was the success it has been portrayed to be. As enamored as we tend to be with our superior technology and firepower, we completely underestimated the size of the enemy force at Shah e Tot and their tenacity to fight, even when confronted by our overwhelming firepower.

As far as I am concerned, reports of the use of the use of 2,000-pound "thermobaric bombs," (designed to deprive caves of oxygen) and many hundreds of smart bombs, were over shadowed by the ability of the Al Qaeda-Taliban ability to severely damage all the AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships involved in the battle and to pin down large numbers of our troops.

Operation ANACONDA not only identified our overconfidence in the effectiveness of airpower and technology to break the enemy's will to fight, but it also showed our own short-sightedness to believe that the Al-Qaeda-Taliban forces would not be prepared to escape and evade the trap we had set for them.

The fact still remains that no matter how many bombs (smart or dumb) we drop, no matter how many Apache gunships or Predator UAVs we use, the outcome of these battles will still come down to the ability of our foot Soldiers to dig out the enemy fighters and kill them. This type of gut-busting infantry combat proved successful for Captain Kevin Butler of the 101st Airborne Division.

No matter how many air strikes he called in and how many smart bombs were dropped, his company continued to receive incoming mortar fire and small arms fire from caves hidden in the ridgelines above him. At times, the Al Qaeda fighters would emerge from their caves and taunt our boys, making fun of our inability to kill them with our smart bombs. Captain Butler eventually killed a number of these jokers, using a dime store 60mm mortar and timing an airburst above them as they emerged from a cave to taunt him once again.

This is evidence that taking-the-fight-to-the-enemy with rifles, pistols, grenades and mortars proved to be more effective in this terrain than the use of airstrikes.

Unfortunately, there is no hard evidence nevertheless to suggest that we accomplished our original goal. At the end of Operation ANACONDA, as well as Tora Bora, the majority of the Al-Qaeda fighters escaped, leaving behind a few bodies and many empty caves.

Of much greater significance is the fact that 10th Mountain Division units involved in Operation ANACONDA were pulled from the battle after two weeks and then redeployed to Fort Drum, N.Y. Amid great pomp and circumstance these units arrived back home to the cameras of ABC's Good Morning America. Later in the broadcast, a news anchor reported that the first elements of a 1,700-man strong British Royal Marine battle group began to arrive in Afghanistan. It was also reported that no other U.S. troops were planned to replace the Soldiers of the 10th, or in the words of the division PAO, "we have the Brits now."

I truly wonder if the significance of this one broadcast was recognized for the greater statement it made regarding the decline of our own combat capabilities. A country with one of the smallest armies in the world was formally asked to pick up the ball from the country with the largest and best financed military in the world. This indeed can qualify as an unqualified Wakeup Call.

Gary R. Stahlhut is an Army Reserve officer and combat veteran with 26 years of active and reserve duty. He can be reached at Gary.R.Stahlhut@eudoramail.com

The following is an unvarnished report from a Senior NCO who fought in ANACONDA. I made some punctuation and spelling corrections. Clarifications in brackets [ ].

Rakkasan lessons learned

By a 187th Regiment 1st Sergeant

"I would like to pass on a few things learned during our recent deployment. It won't be in a specific order so bare with me.

I guess the biggest lesson I learned is nothing changes From how you train at jrtc. We all try to invent new dilemmas and hp's because it's a real deployment but we end up out-smarting ourselves. Go with what you know, stick with how you train.

Some of the things in particular were Soldier's load, because you're in the mountains of Afghanistan you try to invent new packing lists, or new uniforms. Some units went in with gore-tex and polypro only, when the weather got bad they were the only ones to have cold weather injuries that needed to be evaced. We've all figured out how to stay warm during the winter so don't change your uniforms. It was never as cold as I've seen it here or Ft Bragg during the winter.

Because of the high altitude's and rough terrain we all should have been combat light.

That's the first thing you learn at jrtc [Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana], you can't fight with a ruck on your back.

We packed to stay warm at night. Which was a mistake; you take only enough to survive until the sun comes up.

We had extreme difficulty moving with all our weight. If our movement would have been to relieve a unit in contact or a time sensitive mission we would not have been able to move in a timely manner. It took us 8 hours to move 5 clicks. [Editor that's less than 1 mph]

With just the [Interceptor hard body armor] vest and [Enhanced Tactical Load Bearing Vest or the MOLLE vest] lbv we were easily carrying 80 lbs. Throw on the ruck and your sucking.

We out-smarted ourselves on how much water to carry. We took in over 12 quarts per man on our initial insertion, which greatly increased our weight. In the old days you did a three-day mission with 6 quarts of water, and that was on Ft Campbell in the summer. Granted we were all heat exhaustion [casualties] at the end but it's more than do-oable. I say go In with six quarts, if your re-supply is working than drink as much as possible keeping the six quarts in case re-supply gets weathered out. We also over tasked our helicopter support bringing in un-needed re-supply because we've lost a lot of our needed field craft.

We didn't even think to take iodine tablets [to purify water from melted snow etc.] until after we got on the ground.

If you're in a good fight your going to need all your birds for medevac and ammo re-supply.

Bottom line is we have to train at the right Soldiers load, relearn how to conserve water. [Editor: CARRY THE DAMN AMMO YOU WOULD IN COMBAT NOW IN PEACETIME!]

How many batteries does it take to sustain for three days etc.? Take what you need to survive through the night and then wear the same stuff again.

The next day, you can only wear so much snivel gear it. Doesn't do any good to carry enough to have a different ward robe [set of BDUs] every day. Have the bn invest in gore-tex socks, and smart wool socks; our battalion directed for every one to wear gore-tex boots [Intermediate Cold Weather Boots] during the mission, you can imagine how painful that was. 71 gave up my boots to a new Soldier who didn't have any so I wore jungle boots, gore-tex socks and a pair of smart wool socks and mv feet never got wet or cold even in the snow.

You need two pairs [of boots] so you can dry them out every day.

All personnel involved hated the lbv its so constricting when you wear it with the vest, then when you put a ruck on it cuts off even more circulation.

I would also recommend wearing the body armor during all training, I doubt if we'll ever fight without it again.

It significantly affects everything that you do.

Equipment wise, our greatest shortcomings were optics and organic or direct support long-range weapons. After the initial fight all our targets were at a minimum of 1500m all the way out to as far as you could see. Our 60[mm] and 81[mm]'s accounted for most of the kills. Next was a Canadian Sniper team with a MacMillian .50 cal [sniper rifle]. They got kills all the way out to 2500m.

The problem with our mortars was there as a 24 hour [Close Air Support] cas cap. And they wouldn't fly near us if we were firing indirect. Even though our max ord[nant: how high mortar rounds arc into the sky] was far beneath their patterns. Something for you and your alo [Air Liaison Officer] to work out. The other problem was the Air Force could never fly in small groups of Personnel, I watched and called corrections on numerous sorties and they could never hit the targets. My verdict is if you want it killed use your mortars. Pay close attention to ti-hz direction of attack your ALO is bringing in the CAS. Every time it was perpendicular to us we were hit with shrapnel. Not to mention the time they dropped a 2,000 lbs [bomb] in the middle of our company, it didn't go off by a sheer miracle I'm sure. [Marine] Cobras and 2.75" [rockets] shot at us. Also, once again, they were shooting perpendicular to our trace. Aviation provided the most near misses of all the things we did.

I recommend all sl's [Squad Leaders] and pus [Platoon Sergeants] carry binoculars with the mils reticle. Countless times tl's [Team Leaders] and sl's had the opportunity to call in mortars. More importantly is leaders knowing how to do it. Our bn has checked all the blocks as far as that goes. Guess what? they still couldn't do it. Especially the psgts contrary to popular belief its not the pl [Platoon leader] who's going to call it in its the Soldier in the position who will. If you don't have the binos guess what? You have to wait for somebody to run to the M240[B Medium Machine Gun] position to go get them. Also same goes with not knowing how to do It, you have to wait for the FO [artillery or mortar Forward Observer] to move to that position.

Plugger [AN/PSN-11 Global Positioning System] battle drill is the way to go, even with the civilian models [Signals are unscrambled now thanks to President Clinton]; the contour interval on the maps is outrageous so terrain association was difficult. Range Estimation was probably the most important or critical thing you do. If you close on your estimation you'll get the target. We all carried in 2 mortar rounds apiece and that was more than enough. We took mix of everything; the only thing we used was wp [White Phosphorous] and he [High Explosive]. All together we took in at least 120 rounds as a company air assault.

Its was always seats out due to the limited # of ac [aircraft] and the # of personnel we had to get in. That presents a few problems. Offloading a CH-47 on a hot lz [landing zone] packed to the gills is an extremely slow process (2-3 minutes). Landing was the most dangerous part. While we were there just because of the conditions and terrain, if you crash without seats and seatbelts your going to have a lot of broken bones. If possible maybe you could send in the first few lifts with seats in, that will get the helo off the lz much quicker then following ac seats out. Food for thought

Just like the Vietnam the pilots were courageous and will do all and even more of what you ask of them. However, re-supply was a big difficulty. Problem was they never put the right package at the right place and you know what that means, especially when its 120mm mortar rounds that fell into a deep ravine. Fix was put a lno [Liaison Officer] on the bird with grids frequencies's and call signs. Our S-4 had a group of supply sergeants that would accompany the re-supply's. Also as the S-3 push the birds down to the company freqs. That killed us the whole time. Bn would never push the birds down to us so they were always landing in the wrong place or dropping off resupply in the wrong place. Same with AH-64s [Apache Attack helicopter gunships] we always say give them to the user but we never do it. We always had to relay thru the S-3 to give corrections.

Flying was by far the most dangerous thing we did while we were there.

The environment was extremely harsh. The cold wasn't that bad, its the hard cold dry wind that will eat you up like you wouldn't believe. Chapstick, chapstick, chapstick, sun screen, sun screen, sun screen.

[4x2 All-Terrain Vehicles made by John Deere] Gators, didn't hold up to good, that place eats up tires like you wouldn't believe. [Editor: why we need TRACKED vehicles] They're a great thing to have when their running. Also there real easy getting them into to the fight, getting out is a different story, your always scrounging for ac when its time to go. So be prepared to leave a few Gators. [WTFO?]

We used the [Javelin missile Command Launch Unit infared thermal sights] clu's a lot, every night for that matter. Beautiful piece of equipment. They consume a lot of batteries and add a lot of weight. After it snowed, two in the company stopped working until they dried out a few days later. Other than that they held up real well.

Go in with a good or should I say great [battlesight] zero on all your weapon's. We never got a chance to re zero while we were there. Also zero all your spare weapons for replacements etc. On our last mission I hit a dud M203 [grenade] at 75m with one round from my M4 using my M68 [Close Combat Optic]. It held a zero great. A 1SG [1st Sergeant] doesn't normally abuse his weapon like a young Soldier does though. However, if they treat their weapons like tiller nintendos they should be alright.

Our bn bought the ammo bags for the M240 [B Medium Machine Guns] from London Bridge, they worked great.

Knee pads are a must, needless to say not all personnel had some msr stoves are the shit, and they burn any kind of fuel. Quality sun glasses probably more important [as] would be safety or shooting glasses. Bolle goggles are the way to go if you can afford it.

We had one guy who was hypothermic one night, the medics and a wool blanket saved his ass. Green wool still can't be beat.

Fleece gloves are the best.

We also eventually (after we were done) received Barrett .50 cals [2+ km range Anti-Tank Rifles] for our snipers. Their M24's [308 caliber, 7.62mm range only 1 km] never got used because of the extreme ranges. I think each company should have one. Or a sniper team or a M2 [Heavy Machine Gun] with crew.

Lots of thermite grenades and C-4, we used them a lot our engineers were great

Proficiency with the M203's [Grenade Launchers] right now there isn't available sight for the M-4 [5.56mm Carbine], so lots of practice with Kentucky windage. Lots of HE also mounting brackets for the [an/] peq-2 [Night laser aiming device] for the at-4's [M136 84mm disposable rockets] the smaw-d [Disposable version of 83mm shoulder fired medium assault weapon rocket launcher] comes with one. Also the smaw-d is smaller, easier to carry and hits significantly harder. Won't collapse a cave--but will definitely clear it.

Soldiers did great you can always depend on them. They are extremely brave and want to fight. Gotta do realistic training, they'll do it just like we teach them, they'll patch a bullet hole just like you taught them in EIB, but they won't take off the Soldier's vest to check for more bullet holes etc.

Because of the extreme ranges you need the 3x adapters for the [AN/PVS-7B Night Vision Goggles] nvg's

There's a lot more I could talk about but probably better left unsaid on e-mail. Hope this gives you some food for thought"


Internally, the OSD leadership should ask some hard questions about ANACONDA:


Did Secretary of the Defense Rumsfield "do an Aspin" and deny artillery to our fighting men so he could showcase his favored aircraft delivered firepower and later use a success in Afghanistan as an excuse to get rid of Army gun artillery just like the missile-crazy Navy got rid of battleships?? Notice the U.S. marines, the biggest braggerts on earth, didn't bring any artillery during their short time ashore in Afghanistan...we certainly would have heard about their "big guns". Was this no accident? Or was it someone else that told everyone no arty in Afghanistan?? Who determined the force structure would have no artillery? CENTCOM? This is a telling question in light of Rumsfield's DoD trying to cancel the Army's Crusader self-propelled howitzer system...We have been prepping drop and landing zones with arty for well over 6 decades and suddenly for ANACONDA we decide its not necessary?

David Hale, Editor of the Lawton Constitution newspaper wrote in his editorial:

Battle: Secretary Rumsfeld, airpower advocates about to overrun "Firebase Crusader"

The ambush that November day nearly 37 years ago was a total surprise to the American column on its way to Landing Zone Albany in the Ia Drang Valley. The well-prepared North Vietnamese attack separated, killed and wounded many American troops. In some areas, the North Vietnamese were inside the defensive perimeter, moving toward the positions occupied by the Americans.

Often on the battlefield, a shot would ring out, followed by a scream. The enemy was taking no prisoners.

Lt. Bob Jeanette, a weapons officer of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, was severely wounded, but had a radio. "As it got dark, I was still in the same position. I was trying to maintain contact with whoever I had talking to me back at brigade. There was a lull in the battle, and suddenly I was talking to an artillery outfit.

"The North Vietnamese were now running around the area, and we could see them moving. Bunches of 10, 20, more of them circling the perimeter of the landing zone. It was maybe 150 yards to the landing zone perimeter, and the enemy were between us and them."

Ultimately, Jeanette was able to convince the artillery unit to bring high explosive rounds down on top of the enemy.

"I never really knew how effective that artillery fire was until two things happened," he remembered.

The first incident happened while he was recovering from wounds at St. Albans Navy Hospital in New York, "I met someone who had been in that fight, a 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry guy, who came over to me and thanked me for that artillery fire. I was out in the halls on my crutches for exercise and he came up to me on crutches, too. He had an empty trouser leg. He told me the artillery took his leg, but it saved his life and he was grateful. I was stunned."

Later at Fort Levenworth, Jeanette met a sergeant who was in the same battle whose position was about 50 yards from his position. "Sgt. Howard said that every time the enemy got close to them, the artillery would come in close, too, and really whack them. He said the artillery fire was the only thing that kept the enemy away and kept them alive."

The above is just one of many war stories from the Vietnam conflict, but maybe the civilian movers and shakers in Washington need to re-read We Were Soldiers Once And Young" by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway.

The scene described occurred after air strikes by the highly efficient A-1E SkyRaiders. Despite napalm and other ordnance, many enemy soldiers remained alive. It took artillery fire to save American lives.

That was long ago. But proof that it wasn't just an artifact of history emerged only weeks ago during Operation ANACONDA in Afghanistan, when a U.S. infantry company found itself under mortar and rocket fire for nearly 12 hours without close air support. Unfortunately, it also had no artillery support: the unit's artillery had been left behind in the U.S.

Pentagon civilians who threaten to cut the Crusader artillery system seem to have forgotten their history. Airpower is a wonderful tool, but it isn't enough. Infantrymen on the ground need the combined firepower of both close air support and artillery.

Strangely, combat veterans who understand the value of combined firepower have been deafeningly quiet about the need for more advanced artillery. That's hard to understand, because they know air power has its limitations and that their grandsons will pay the price.

In the late 1940s when air power advocates tried to eliminate aircraft carriers and shift responsibility for power projection to the Air Force, active duty admirals revolted, cranked up the public relations machine on the need for Naval airpower and won. [EDITOR: now we have a dozen bloated aircraft carriers that eat bloated airplanes that cannot render CAS and too far away to help inland fights]

The battle for Crusader may be over. The "after action report" will be prepared soon. Maybe the report should look at why the Army failed to convince the Pentagon, public and President that the Crusader was a vital asset. If so, it should also examine why the combat veterans who experienced the live-saving value of artillery hid in their foxholes.

In an attempt to make excuses for Army light infantry leaders wanting to hog up all the action to themselves and not bring any field artillery or use any mortars for LZ prep fires, the U.S. Army Center for Lessons Learned (CALL) Afghanistan report states:


"The land component does not have field artillery that would normally deploy with a unit. The only indirect fire assets within the battalion are mortars. These mortars provide fires directly in support of the battalion out to limits of the weapon's range. Beyond that range, commanders must request air support to attack targets in their operational area".

This is TOTAL BULLSHIT. Its a bald-faced lie. We deliberately co-locate field artillery units on the same Army posts where light infantry are at for the very purpose that they can train and deploy together. This is politically correct BS to prop up infantry ego and not wage combined arms warfare with the rest of the Army which is required to WIN on the modern, non-linear battlefield (NLB) against cunning enemies who know thew terrain better than we do and outnumber us.

* Why were MPs suddenly converted to infantrymen to fill out under-strength units in the two battalions from two different divisions (10th and 101st) that were deployed to ANACONDA? This goes to the heart of the readiness/training problem in the Army.

* Why was each battalion maneuvered on the ground remotely by a different brigade commander? Why were the two brigade commanders (each maneuvering one battalion) from different divisions reporting to a 1 star and a two star (BG from 101st and MG from 10th Mountain)?

Perhaps answers to these questions would do much to illuminate the condition of our warfighting readiness, as well as the confused nature of Army senior leadership. Of course, these questions only begin to scratch the surface concerning the host of other things, but I think this UK reporter has shed some light on the reality of the U.S. Army.

Remember what then LTG Ridgway said after assuming command of the 8th Army in Korea:

"The primary purpose of an Army - to be ready to fight effectively at all times - seemed to have been forgotten.... The leadership I found in many instances was sadly lacking and I said so out loud. The unwillingness of the army to forgo certain creature comforts, its timidity about getting off the scanty roads, its reluctance to move without radio and telephone contact, and its lack of imagination in dealing with a foe whom they soon outmatched in firepower and dominated in the air and on the surrounding seas - these were not the fault of the Soldier, but of the policymakers at the top."

Our problems are not just equipment or technology related. They are profoundly human which is why reorganization and reform offer the only path to transformation.

Ambush at Takur Ghar: Fighting for Survival in the Afghan Snow

Bravery And Breakdowns In A Ridgetop Battle: 7 Americans Died in Rescue Effort That Revealed Mistakes and Determination

By Bradley Graham, Washington Post Staff Writer

Robert's Ridge aka Takur Ghar after the snow melted



A call had come in to headquarters just before daybreak: A Navy SEAL team was taking fire on an Afghan mountain ridge and needed help. As they raced in helicopters toward the site, Capt. Nathan Self and his platoon of Army Rangers were excited about the prospect of engaging al Qaeda. They'd spent more than two months in Afghanistan without a firefight.

They didn't know how many enemy fighters to expect. They didn't know exactly where the enemy might be. They didn't know exactly where the SEALs were, either. They did know that they were losing the advantage of darkness, flying by dawn's early light.

Two U.S. helicopters already had taken fire while trying to land on the ridge during the previous three hours, and two U.S. soldiers had been killed. Around 6:15 that morning, March 4, Self's chopper, a black, 52-foot Chinook, reached the ridge and started to descend.

Absurdly DARK GREEN MH-47 Chinook helicopter should be LIGHT GRAY to blend into the sky--and not be such an easy target for enemy fire

The chopper was still about 20 feet off the ground when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into its right engine, knocking it out. Enemy machine-gun fire ripped through the fuselage. Bullets started punching holes in the cockpit glass.

The chopper shook and dropped, landing hard enough to send the Rangers and aircrew sprawling across the floor. Within seconds, four men on the helicopter were killed, and the survivors were fighting for their lives.

By day's end, a seventh Soldier, an Air Force search-and-rescue specialist, would bleed to death as Self's appeals for urgent evacuation were rejected by his superiors, who wanted no more daylight rescue attempts.

What became a 17-hour ordeal atop a frigid, desolate and enemy-ridden mountain ridge cost seven American lives, more combat deaths than any U.S. unit had suffered in a single day since 1993, when 19 Rangers and Special Operations soldiers died in battle in Mogadishu, Somalia. How the operation was conducted revealed serious shortcomings in U.S. military coordination and communication in Afghanistan. How it unfolded highlighted the extraordinary commitment of American soldiers not to leave fallen comrades behind: The entire episode spiraled out of an attempt to rescue a single SEAL, who had fallen out of the initial helicopter and was quickly shot by the enemy.

The firefight at Takur Ghar mountain came on the third day of Operation ANACONDA, a three-week-long U.S. sweep against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Shahikot valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Mogadishu battle nine years ago precipitated the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia. This one, Pentagon officials credit with reinforcing the Bush administration's commitment to pursue the war even in the face of U.S. military casualties. Efforts are underway to award some of the military's highest decorations for valor to those who fought on the mountain.

Even so, the circumstances that led to the firefight on the ridge have been subjected to extensive review in the Special Operations Command, which has responsibility for some of the elite U.S. military forces, including the Navy SEALs. Special Operations commanders ran the star-crossed rescue effort.

Close examination of the effort indicates that U.S. intelligence sources failed to detect enemy fighters on the ridge, leaving commanders to assume it was safe. Even after learning otherwise, U.S. military officials dispatched the SEALs back to the ridge where they had first come under fire, rushing them headlong into another ambush. Self and his Rangers then ended up going to the same spot unaware, because of communications equipment glitches, that the SEALs had retreated from the ridgetop.

An AC-130 gunship that could have provided covering fire for the Rangers was pulled from the scene just as they arrived because rules prohibited use of the low-flying, slow-moving warplane during daylight. An unmanned Predator drone [ED: un-armed and couldn't do squat] took live video of the unfolding battle, giving commanders at the operation's command post at Bagram air base about 100 miles to the north and as far away as U.S. Central Command in Tampa real-time images of the firefight. But little of the information it initially gleaned was passed to the troops.

The episode has prompted some changes within Special Operations intended to improve communications and the flow of information to rescue teams. Commanders also have taken steps to promote closer coordination between conventional and Special Operations units in Afghanistan, which have separate chains of command.

This account is drawn from extensive interviews with the Rangers, who are back in the United States, as well as Air Force air controllers, Air Force para-rescuemen, and the Army helicopter crews who flew the Special Operations team and Rangers to the ridge. The chopper crews asked that only their first names be used; one Ranger requested his name be withheld.

Those who survived the battle are reluctant to criticize the decisions of superiors. But some senior military officers familiar with the rescue operation have raised questions about how it was managed. Could aircraft have attacked the al Qaeda positions before the rescuers set down? Could the communications glitches that hampered the rescue effort have been avoided? Could the Rangers have been dispatched sooner, allowing them to maintain the advantage of darkness?

"Instead, it was the shootout at the OK Corral in the broad morning light," one Ranger officer said.

"A Dominating Piece of Terrain"



The first signs of trouble came about 3 a.m., when an MH-47E Chinook carrying Navy SEALs and an Air Force Special Operations combat controller tried to land on a ridge on the eastern side of the Shahikot valley, on a mountain the U.S. military dubbed "Ginger."

U.S. military commanders launched Operation ANACONDA on March 2 against members of al Qaeda and their allies in the Taliban militia. It was still winter in Afghanistan's forbidding eastern mountains, where night-time temperatures dipped into the twenties and the snow on ridgelines was knee-deep.

Military planners had intelligence that enemy forces were concentrating in the Shahikot valley. The plan was for friendly Afghan troops to lead an assault from the northwest, pushing the enemy fighters into U.S. blocking positions along the eastern ridge.

Instead, the Afghan advance stalled and the eastern ridge itself was found to be teeming with al Qaeda fighters. As U.S. 10th Mountain Division troops tried to get into position to seal off valley exit routes in the south, they came under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire from around Ginger.

Elements of the 10th Mountain regrouped with plans to insert additional forces north of Ginger and move south to attack. At the same time, on the night of March 3, U.S. commanders sought to gather a firsthand picture by placing a reconnaissance team on the ridgetop.

"It was a dominating piece of terrain, and if we had observation up there, it gave us a 360-degree look across several trails as well as Shahikot," explained Army Maj. Gen. Franklin L. "Buster" Hagenbeck, who was commanding Operation ANACONDA from his headquarters at Bagram.

The ridgetop, at 10,200 feet, was thought to be uninhabited. U.S. warplanes had repeatedly bombed the area, and overhead surveillance had produced little sign of life on top. Commanders chose a reconnaissance team of seven Special Operations troops, all but one of them Navy SEALs, to go to Ginger.

Helicopter maintenance problems and a B-52 bomber strike that night forced a delay in the reconnaissance mission. This raised concerns that the SEALs, who were to be dropped off at the base of the mountain and climb to the ridgetop, might not make it up before daylight. A decision was made to fly them directly to the top.

The Chinook carrying the reconnaissance team, code-named Razor 3, left a staging area in Gardez with a second helicopter, Razor 4, which was to drop another Special Operations team elsewhere in the valley and then rendezvous with Razor 3 for the return trip. The choppers were flown by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, a special Army unit known as the Night Stalkers. Its pilots are accustomed to operating on covert missions behind enemy lines. The 2nd Battalion of the 160th had been in Afghanistan since October, flying some of the war's most sensitive missions.

"Before we went in there, the plan was for an AC-130 to recon the area and make sure it was all clear," recalled Alan, the pilot of Razor 3. "With a recon mission like this, you don't want to land where the enemy is."

The helicopter touched down in a small saddle near the top of the ridge, and the SEALs moved into position at the rear door to get off. At the head of the line was Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts.

The chopper's crew reported the presence of a heavy machine gun about 50 yards off the nose of the aircraft. But the gun appeared unmanned, a not uncommon sight in Afghanistan, whose mountain ridges and caves are littered with seemingly abandoned tanks and antiaircraft guns. The SEALs announced they were leaving.

At that moment, machine-gun fire erupted from several directions, ripping into the chopper. A rocket-propelled grenade came flaming in from the left, tearing through the cargo bay and exploding.

"I saw a big flash," said Jeremy, a crew chief. "By the time I got my senses back, we were flying down the mountain."

Dan, the crew chief on the rear right, shouted to the pilot: "We're taking fire! Go! Go! Go!" The pilot applied full throttle, but the grenade had short-circuited the aircraft's electrical power and damaged its hydraulic system. The machine-gun fire had punctured oil lines and wires. The chopper wobbled and jerked as it lifted off.

As it lurched, Roberts went flying off the back ramp.

Alexander, one of the chopper's rear crew chiefs, tried to grab him. But Alexander lost his own balance on the ramp, slipping on draining oil and hydraulic fluid. He dangled off the edge, saved only by his safety harness. Dan yanked him back inside.

The pilot, thinking an engine was out, sent the chopper into a dive, hoping to gain airspeed. Quickly realizing both engines were working, he leveled the chopper and tried to climb.

"The thing was shaking like a washing machine out of balance," he recalled. "There were holes in the rotor blades, and the hydraulics were doing some funny things."

Told that Roberts had fallen out, the pilot tried to turn back. But with no hydraulic fluid, the controls locked up. Dan, having just hauled Alexander to safety, grabbed the handle of a hand pump and started furiously pumping spare quarts of hydraulic fuel into the system.

"The controls came back," the pilot said. "I leveled it out and said, 'Sorry guys, we're going to have to abort.'"

The Chinook limped north, its controls briefly freezing twice more as the crew desperately looked for a place to land in the valley below. With its radio out, Razor 3 could not contact Razor 4, which was beginning to wonder why its buddy was a no-show at the rendezvous point. Razor 3 finally came to rest at the north end of the valley, about four miles from the ridgetop. crew members were not even sure they were out of the battle zone.

The SEALs and aircrew got off the chopper to take up fighting positions. Mike, the flight engineer, grabbed a picture of his 2-year-old as he got off, wondering whether he would ever see his child again.

Razor 3 soon received word that Razor 4 was on the way to pick them up. It arrived within 30 to 45 minutes. The two teams discussed returning immediately to Ginger to rescue Roberts, but with the crew of Razor 3 also on board, Razor 4 would be too heavy to reach the ridge. Leaving the Razor 3 crew on the valley floor while Razor 4 ferried the SEALs back also would not work: Reports were coming across the radio of enemy forces about 1,200 yards away and closing in fast.

So the only option was to go to Gardez, drop off Razor 3's crew, then take the SEAL team in Razor 4 to hunt for Roberts.

Two of Razor 4's crewmen had gone over to Razor 3, which was about 60 yards away, to do a final sweep of the aircraft. Suddenly in a rush to leave after getting word of the enemy fighters nearby, those on Razor 4 tried, using laser signals and other means, to get the attention of the crewmen on the other helicopter -- in vain.

"It was just a moment of pure panic," the pilot of Razor 4 recalled.

Lifting off in a hover, Razor 4 landed in front of Razor 3, loaded the other crewmen and hustled to Gardez. There, it dropped off the other crew and -- with the SEALs and Air Force Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, the air controller, on board -- set out back to Ginger, and Roberts.

"This Is Going to Hurt"

At Bagram air base outside Kabul, the command staff was trying desperately to gather some sense of Roberts' condition and location. U.S. military officials say no one knows exactly what transpired during the next few minutes on the ridge. There were no surveillance aircraft over the mountain at the time Roberts fell from the helicopter.

Based on forensic evidence subsequently gathered from the scene, officials with the U.S. Special Operations Command concluded that Roberts survived the short fall, likely activated an infrared strobe light and engaged the enemy with his M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a light machine gun known as a SAW.

"He was there moving around the objective for a period of time, at least half an hour," Hagenbeck said. An AC-130 gunship moved over the area and reported seeing what the crew believed to be Roberts surrounded by four to six enemy fighters. As a Predator drone arrived to provide a video picture, the strobe light went out.

Hagenbeck says the imagery taken by the drone appeared to show him being taken prisoner. "The image was fuzzy, but we believe it showed three al Qaeda had captured Roberts and were taking him away around to the south side of Ginger and disappearing into a tree line," Hagenbeck said. "That was 15 to 20 minutes before the first rescue team arrived."

The review by Special Operations Command concluded that Roberts was shot at close range. His SAW was found near his body with blood on it, along with other evidence that he had been able to fire some shots. Some ammunition remained in the gun, suggesting it had jammed.

It is unclear just how much information commanders were relaying to Razor 4 as it sped Roberts' comrades back to Ginger. Uncertain about Roberts' situation, the rescue team approached the ridgetop cautiously, resolved not to fire wildly lest they hit the stranded SEAL.

The pilot of Razor 4 had never flown into a hot landing zone. The briefing he had received from Razor 3's pilot gave him some confidence that he wouldn't be caught by surprise. He figured all he had to do was put the chopper on the ground long enough to let the SEALs dash out.

About 40 feet above the ground, the pilot saw the flash of a machine-gun muzzle off the nose of the aircraft. "I thought, 'Oh, this is going to hurt,'" he said. "And then the second thought was, 'How do I get myself into this?' But we had to go. We had to put these guys in."

Rounds of gunfire started hitting the aircraft, "pinging and popping through," in the words of one crew chief.

Hagenbeck, watching the Predator's pictures, saw Razor 4 land and the SEALs and Chapman rush off toward the enemy positions. He had little view of the enemy fighters, who were hidden under trees, dug into trenches and obscured by shadows.

"They didn't take cover, they just started moving immediately to where they thought that Roberts was located, right off the nose of the helicopter," Hagenbeck said of the U.S. commandos. "They moved straight out and took withering fire and they returned it as well."

The most prominent features on the hilltop were a large rock and tree. According to the Special Operations Command review, Chapman saw two enemy fighters in a fortified position under the tree. He and a nearby SEAL opened fire, killing both fighters.

The Americans immediately began taking fire from another bunker position about 20 yards away. A burst of gunfire hit Chapman, mortally wounding him, the review said. The SEALs returned fire and threw grenades into the enemy bunker directly in front of them.

As the firefight continued, two of the SEALs were wounded by enemy gunfire and grenades. The SEALs decided to disengage. They shot two more al Qaeda fighters as they moved off the mountain peak to the northeast, according to the official review.

As they moved down the side of the mountain, a SEAL contacted the AC-130, code-named Grim 32, and requested fire support. The gunship responded with covering fire.

As the SEAL team battled, Capt. Self and the 19 other Rangers in the "quick reaction force" took off from Bagram in two Chinooks -- code-named Razor 1 and Razor 2 -- and headed for Ginger, about an hour away. It was shortly after 5 a.m.

"You Have This Dilemma"



The Rangers left Bagram with only sketchy information about where they were headed and what they were to do. Initially, they had been told only that a helicopter had been hit by enemy fire and forced to land; later, they learned that someone had fallen out. A lightly armed infantry unit, the Rangers specialize in behind-the-lines evacuation and reinforcement missions. They work frequently with SEALs and other Special Operations teams.

More specific guidance arrived as the Rangers flew toward the scene. They received orders to link up with the embattled SEALs and extract them, along with the commando who had fallen. Beyond that, many details were lacking.

"You have this dilemma: Hold guys on the ground longer so they know exactly what they're going to do, or push them ahead so we can affect the situation sooner," said Self, 25, a Texas native and West Point graduate who had commanded the platoon for 17 months. "A quick reaction force is never going to know everything that's going on. If they did, then they wouldn't be quick."

At headquarters, commanders tried to notify the Rangers that the SEALs had retreated from the ridgetop and to direct the helicopters to another landing zone further down the mountain. Due to intermittently functioning aircraft communications equipment, the Rangers and aircrew never received the instructions, according to the official review. Communication problems also plagued headquarters attempts to determine the true condition of the SEAL team and its exact location.

"As a consequence, the Rangers went forward under the false belief that the SEALs were still located on top of Takur Ghar and proceeded to the same location where both Razors 3 and 4 had taken enemy fire," the review said.

Nearing the mountain, Razor 2 went into a holding pattern. Self flew ahead on Razor 1 with his "chalk," nine young men in body armor over desert camouflage fatigues. In Afghanistan since December, the platoon -- Part of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 75th Infantry Regiment -- had been scrambled a number of times, but it had not seen combat in the country, or anywhere else.

"The force flew to the place they knew the folks were in trouble," said a senior officer who monitored the battle. "They didn't know where the enemy or the Americans were. They were committed relatively blindly."

As they approached the landing site, the Rangers quickly found out how blind they really were. A rocket-propelled grenade knocked out the right engine, and enemy gunmen opened up on the damaged chopper.

Sgt. Philip J. Svitak, one of the forward gunners, fired a single burst of his 7.62mm gun from the copter's right side before being struck and killed. The other forward gunner, a flight engineer named David, was hit in the right leg.

"It basically just pissed me off," David said. "And I just pushed the trigger on my [Dillon Aero M134] minigun and started sweeping fire on the left. I didn't know where the fire was coming from, I just knew we were taking fire. I wasn't going to let that happen without shooting back."

The chopper slammed to the ground. David collapsed in a corner and used a lanyard from his 9mm pistol to tie a tourniquet on his leg. He knew it was broken -- every time he tried to move it, the whole thing would twist.

Bullets were zooming through the cockpit glass. A round shattered one of the pilot's legs below the knee, another knocked off his helmet. The pilot, Chuck, popped open his emergency side door and flopped onto the snow. A bullet or fragment ripped a chunk out of the left wrist of the other pilot, Greg. Another bullet cut into his thigh. He staggered out of the cockpit toward the rear of the aircraft, holding his wrist as it spurted blood.

The incoming machine-gun fire was turning the aircraft's insulation into confetti. An RPG shot through the right forward window, hit a high-altitude oxygen console on the wall and started a fire.

"It's chaos at that point. Nobody has a grip on what's going on," said Cory, the chopper's medic. "I took three rounds in the helmet. It knocked me down," he recalled. "I was on my back. Somehow the impact caused a small laceration in my eyebrow. But it was bleeding a decent amount. I was on my back, and the blood was running down my face, and it took me a second to gain my senses and I realized I was okay."

Sean, the crew chief on the right rear side, shouted to Cory, "You need to put that fire out." But the forward fire extinguisher was missing. Brian, the other rear crewman, passed an extinguisher forward. Cory put out the fire, but the rest of the chopper was pure hell. The air was laced with smoke and bullets, and the enemy seemed to be everywhere. "I Saw the Tracers"

The Rangers were supposed to exit down a back ramp in an order they had practiced countless times. Those on the left would assemble outside on the left side of the chopper. Those on the right would assemble right.

But the moment had turned into a mad scramble to get out in whatever order they could. One Ranger, Spc. Marc A. Anderson, was shot and killed while still in the helicopter. Two others -- Pfc. Matthew A. Commons and Sgt. Bradley S. Crose -- were gunned down on the ramp.

At 21, Commons was the youngest in the group, with a reputation as a good-humored, enthusiastic Soldier. Crose, 22, a leader of one of the platoon's four-man teams, was a quiet professional. Anderson, 30, was a former high school math teacher who had awed his fellow Rangers with his knowledge of weaponry. Now they were dead.

The surviving Soldiers peeled off in different directions, wheeling around in the knee-deep snow, scurrying for cover behind whatever rocks they could find and firing on enemy positions.

The enemy was concentrated in two spots 50 to 75 yards away, looking down on the chopper from dug-in, fortified positions atop the ridgeline. Two or three fighters were shooting from the left rear side of the Chinook -- at about the 8 o'clock position. Staff Sgt. Raymond M. DePouli, the first Ranger out, began blasting away at them with his M4 assault rifle.

"I saw the guy shooting at me, I saw the tracers. I got hit in my body armor," said DePouli, a squad leader. "I turned and dumped a whole magazine into him. Then I just got down prone...to make sure nothing else came over the hill."

Another cluster of enemy fighters was behind a boulder and under a tree to the front of the helicopter, off to the right at about 2 o'clock. They were firing machine guns and RPGs at the Americans. One slammed near the right side of the 'copter.

Spc. Aaron Totten-Lancaster, a long-distance runner considered the fastest in the battalion, took shrapnel in his right calf. [EDITOR: how fast did he run after that?] Shrapnel also cut a wound in Self's right thigh and put a small hole in the left shoulder of Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Vance, a tactical air controller attached to the Ranger unit.

Another RPG soared over the Rangers' heads, skipping off the helicopter's tail. Self could see the torso of the man who fired it suddenly exposed above a boulder. DePouli, moving around from the other side of the helicopter, saw him, too, and shot him in the head.

Nearly all the Rangers were hit. A machine gun belonging to Spc. Anthony Miceli got shot up. A bullet slammed into helmet of Staff Sgt. Joshua Walker, another team leader.

Only Pfc. David Gilliam, the newest member of the platoon, avoided a hit to either his body or his equipment. He had jumped to the right side of the chopper, then scrambled to reassemble scattered ammunition belts for his M240B heavy [EDITOR: medium] medium machine gun.

Self thought that the bullets flying past sounded different from what he had expected, almost like a clicking instead of a crack. The smell, too, was something he hadn't imagined, a mixture of cedar from the trees dotting the ridgeline, fuel, gunpowder, metal, sweat, blood and something faintly like strawberries. It all seemed so strange. "You see something happening and it doesn't seem real," Self said. "We understood we were getting shot. But it just seemed like a bad movie."

Disorienting and frightening as the first intense minutes of combat were, a sense of anger and indignation quickly took hold.

"Who do these guys think they are?" Walker shouted. He bounded forward, firing his M4 and taking up a position behind a rock on the chopper's right side. Self and Vance joined him.

Totten-Lancaster started to move toward them. "I didn't really know I had been hit until I got up to run and couldn't," he said. His right leg disabled, Totten-Lancaster rolled several yards to the rock.

Slightly behind this group and farther to the right, DePouli and Gilliam, the machine gunner, took cover behind another rock. There they found the bullet-ridden body of an enemy fighter with an unused RPG. [EDITOR: how about using his RPG against the enemy? Especially if your hand grenades can't reach them...]

Miceli, the seventh surviving Ranger, remained on the left side of the chopper, guarding that flank.

Several Rangers tried hurling grenades toward the enemy position about 50 yards away, but the farthest they could throw was about 35 yards. Enemy fighters heaved fragmentation grenades at the Rangers, only to have them land short, their explosions muffled by the snow.

The Rangers enlisted two of the helicopter crew members in the fight. Don, the air mission commander, and Brian, a rear crew chief, were told to fetch more ammunition from the helicopter, as well as an M203 grenade launcher that Commons had been carrying when he was shot on the ramp.

"I'd like to say we were out of our element, as we're aviation and the Rangers are ground guys," said Don, a 26-year veteran. "So when they tell us, 'We need you to do this,' I'm in their element, I'm going to listen to what they say."

With the Rangers providing covering fire, the two crewmen dashed back and forth to the chopper. But the thin air quickly left them spent.

"I found it easier to roll across the snow," Don said. "If I could roll within 10 feet of them and throw it, I would."

For all the surprise and confusion of the early minutes, the Rangers fought-by-the-book. Reacting to the attack, they sought cover and returned fire. Next, their training taught them to try to take the fight to the enemy, to look for flanking positions and consider avenues for assault.

On the right, the terrain dropped off steeply, ruling out a move that way. On the left was high ground. Moving there would leave them exposed to enemy fire.

"That's when we made the decision that the only way to assault would be straight at them," Self said. [EDITOR: did you have smoke grenades to blind the enemy?]

Gilliam was told to provide covering fire with his heavy [editor: incorrect, medium] machine gun. Brian was assigned as assistant gunner -- "AG" for short -- to feed ammunition belts into Gilliam's M240B. "I didn't know what he was talking about when he said AG," Brian said. "Then he explained it to me, and I said, 'Okay, I can do that.'"

As Gilliam opened fire, Self, DePouli, Walker and Vance charged, guns ablaze, grenades at the ready. Halfway up the hill, about 25 yards from the enemy, Self spotted a fighter pop his head from around a tree.

"All I could see was from chest up because he was dug down into the ground," Self said. "He shot at us and then disappeared."

Self suddenly realized that the enemy fighters were better protected than he had thought, shielded by a built-up cover of leaves, logs and branches. An assault on such a fortified position would require more than four Soldiers.

"Bunker! Bunker! Bunker!," he shouted. "Get back."

The Rangers retreated to the rocks.

"We Were Spectators Watching"

Watching Predator imagery of the Chinook's landing, military commanders in Bagram were stunned by the ferocity of the ambush.

"It was gut-wrenching," Hagenbeck said. "We saw the helicopter getting shot as it was just setting down. We saw the shots being fired. And it was unbelievable the Rangers were even able to get off that and kill the enemy without suffering greater losses."

Although Hagenbeck was the senior U.S. military commander in Afghanistan with responsibility for much of Operation ANACONDA, he did not control the Ranger mission. That authority fell to Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory Trebon, who ran a separate unit overseeing special operations. Trebon's command post also was at Bagram, but set apart from Hagenbeck's. A liaison officer who reported to Trebon sat next to Hagenbeck. Trebon declined to be interviewed.

"Literally, we were spectators watching," Hagenbeck said. "We did not know what the [SEAL] rescue squad on the ground had been reporting. I still don't know to this day what they reported to the commander here and what was transmitted to the Rangers on board the helicopter -- whether they said there's no other way to get here, or if they said we can suppress the enemy fire, or if they said we're going to lose some guys but it's the only way to do it. We were just looking at a screen without any audio to it."



While the Rangers were in the firefight, a Special Operations combat controller traveling with them, Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown, set up a communications post about 25 yards behind the helicopter, down a slope and behind a rock. He established a radio link with the SEALs.

That was how Self and his team got the news: The SEALs they had come to rescue were not even on the ridgetop any more. They had moved some distance down the mountain before the Rangers had arrived.

"They had two wounded, and I was led to believe they were going to stay" down the mountain, Brown said. "I believed they were holed up for the duration of the day."

Brown worked furiously to make contact with U.S. fighter jets in the area, frustrated by communications glitches. About 20 minutes after the chopper crashed, he managed to reach headquarters and ask for air support. Controllers gave him additional frequencies for talking with the incoming jet fighters.

"We have F-15s inbound on station," Brown shouted.

The first question for the besieged ground force was: bombs or bullets? Should the jets start unleashing bombs or begin with 20mm cannon fire? The Rangers decided on bullets, to minimize the chance of getting hit themselves.

After emptying their cannons in several runs, the F-15s were joined by a pair of F-16s, which had been about 180 miles away over north-central Afghanistan when the call came to go to Ginger. Swooping over the ridgetop, the F-16s unloaded 1,000 rounds.

But the enemy bunker continued to menace the Rangers, so the order was given for bombs. With Brown working the radio, and Self and Vance shouting back targeting adjustments based on where the bombs were hitting, the ground team tried to walk the bombs toward the bunker.

The first bomb, a 500-pound GB-12, dropped down the hill behind the helicopter. The next struck on the ridge crest, in front of the chopper. The third scored a direct hit on the bunker, splitting a tree. [EDITOR: F-16s fly TOO FAST; need slower A-10s].

Piloting the lead F-16, Air Force Lt. Col. Burt Bartley, commander of the 18th Fighter Squadron, was uneasy about how close to their own position the ground troops were calling for strikes.

"When I dropped one of those bombs, the ground controller said, 'Whoa, you almost got us with that one. Can you move it a little closer to the tree?'" Bartley said. "And in my mind, and what I called to my wingman was, 'No, I can't.' In my mind, that was as close as I dared get or I would kill him."

Military rules allow ground troops, under exceptional circumstances, to authorize airstrikes inside standard safety limits.

"If it's that close, they generally ask for the initials of whoever is in charge on the ground," Self said. "I was passing my initials over the radio because we were dropping that stuff within 50 meters of us."

The airstrikes suppressed the enemy fire and took out one critical bunker. But at mid-morning, the ridgetop was still in enemy hands.

Fire and Cold

Inside the helicopter, Cory, the aircrew medic, and two Air Force para-rescuemen -- Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham and Tech. Sgt. Cary Miller -- tended to casualties in the cargo bay.

The wounded included three members of the aircrew: Chuck, the pilot, who had been pulled around to the back of the helicopter after being shot in the leg and falling out his cockpit door onto the snow; Greg, the co-pilot, who had received a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from his left wrist; and David, the flight engineer, who had been shot in the leg.

Cory kept the casualties on the aircraft to try to shield them from enemy fire and from the cold. He knew that anyone who had lost a significant amount of blood was more susceptible to hypothermia. But the cargo bay was itself still a fire zone. From their elevated vantage off the nose of the aircraft, enemy fighters could see into the right side of the aircraft and shoot at anyone moving. "So the only way we could move was to crawl on our bellies," Cory said.

The enemy shooting subsided after the bomb dropped by the U.S. jet hit the bunker, and Cory shifted the wounded to an area behind the helicopter. All three had suffered life-threatening injuries, but the bleeding had stopped, and Cory considered their conditions stable. Even so, they needed more extensive care, and Cory was eager to get them evacuated.

"We knew at that point that until we took the hill, there was no way they could get out of there," said Don, the air mission commander.

For that, the Rangers would have to wait for more help, which was on its way.

Second of two articles

Sgt. Eric W. Stebner knew something about snow and cold, having grown up in North Dakota. He also knew something about mountain trekking, having trained as an Army Ranger and climbed rocks in the Shenandoah Mountains.

But neither Stebner nor any of the other nine U.S. Army Rangers struggling behind him on the morning of March 4 had encountered anything like Takur Ghar, the mountain in eastern Afghanistan on which they found themselves.

They faced a climb up a steep, forbidding slope, with upwards of 80 pounds of military gear, wearing inappropriate clothing and boots, and under sporadic enemy fire. They also were in a race against time.

The other half of their unit was stranded at the top of the ridge, their helicopter shot down shortly after sunrise. They had flown in to rescue a Navy SEAL team, only to be ambushed by enemy fighters. Four of the quick-reaction force were dead, three aircrew members were seriously wounded and the rest of the contingent was pinned-down.

The ordeal had begun around 3 a.m., when the SEALs had come under attack as their helicopter landed on the ridge for a reconnaissance mission. One, Navy Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, fell off the damaged chopper as it took off. The SEALs returned to rescue Roberts and were ambushed again, losing the Air Force combat controller in their group, Tech. Sgt. John Chapman.

It was day three of what the U.S. military called Operation ANACONDA, a three-week-long offensive against members of al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Shahikot valley. Over the course of 17 hours, seven Americans lost their lives, the highest number of combat deaths in a single day by any unit since 19 Rangers and Special Operations Soldiers had been killed in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993.

As their comrades began the climb, the Rangers on the ridgetop had made one uphill attempt to assault enemy positions on a crest line 50 to 75 yards away. They were forced to retreat behind boulders near their downed MH-47E Chinook. Although airstrikes had silenced some enemy fire, the Rangers lacked sufficient manpower and weaponry to try again.

They were worried about an enemy counterattack. They saw enemy fighters moving in the distance toward their rear, and U.S. military spotters and aircraft picked up other signs of enemy reinforcement efforts.

Mortar shells fell around their chopper. The first landed ahead of the nose, the next one down the hill to the rear, suggesting the enemy was attempting to zero in on them. The whooshing of the shells sent shivers through the Americans, especially the helicopter crewmen, who were unaccustomed to ground combat.

Concerned about the condition of the three wounded aircrew members, some of the chopper team pressed the Ranger platoon's commander, Capt. Nathan Self, to mount a new assault to clear the way for an evacuation. Self told them he needed reinforcements first.

"They didn't understand the timetable that we were really on," Self said. "They expected things to happen quick, quick, quick: 'You guys run up there and kill the enemy.'"

But Self shared their sense of urgency. He worried they all would be in trouble unless the rest of his unit got up to the top soon.

That half of the Ranger force, designated Chalk 2, had been in a helicopter over the Shahikot valley when Self took his Chalk 1 team to the ridge. Shortly afterward, communication with the chopper carrying Chalk 1 was lost, and Chalk 2 flew to Gardez, a town northwest of the valley that was a staging area for the larger U.S. offensive. As time ticked by with no information about the lead Ranger group, Chalk 2 grew anxious.

"At one point, I had a crew chief by the collar," said Staff Sgt. Arin Canon, the ranking Ranger in Chalk 2. "I'm screaming at him that regardless of what happened, the first bird only had 10 guys on it. That's the bare minimum package. If something happened to them, they need us. We complete the package."

Then word came in that the chopper carrying Chalk 1 had gone down. Within 30 to 60 minutes - accounts vary - Chalk 2 was back in the air and heading toward the ridgetop.

The first challenge was finding a place to set down. "It's the side of a mountain, so there are not a whole lot of places to land," said Ray, who piloted the chopper. "You basically hunt and peck around."

At about 8:30 a.m, the crew found a space just big enough to get all the wheels on the ground. The aircrew had advised the Rangers that Chalk 1 would be straight ahead of them, about 250 to 300 yards away. After they got off, the Rangers learned that Chalk 1 was actually about 2,000 feet up the mountain, at an altitude of 10,200 feet. The plan had changed, but no one told the Rangers.

"We Have to Keep Moving"

The Chalk 2 Rangers surveyed the landscape. Towering before them was a rocky slope angling as steep as 70 degrees in places and covered with snow as deep as three feet. They also could see, off to the right and about 1,000 feet up, another small cluster of Americans - members of the SEAL unit the Rangers had been sent to rescue.

The SEALs were edging their way down the mountain with two wounded. Two other members of their original team - Roberts and Chapman - had been killed on top.

A SEAL who had flown in with Chalk 2 to link up with the Navy unit asked whether the Rangers could hike over to help the SEALs before beginning their climb. Canon forwarded the request to Self up on the ridgetop.



"I've got casualties up here, and I need you now more than they need you," Self radioed back. The SEAL headed across the mountain alone to join his team members. The Rangers of Chalk 2 headed up.

"It was kind of like a merry-go-round," said Chalk 2's medic, who asked that his name not be used. "We were trying to go up and they were coming down."

With no trail to follow, the Rangers blazed a path of their own. One route to the right looked promising but would take them close to an enemy bunker on top. They chose a course to the left that appeared to provide some cover from enemy fighters and bring them around to the rear of Chalk 1's position.

Canon, who is qualified in Army mountain warfare, thought that if this had been a planned route of attack, scouts would have eased the way with fixed rope lines. The Rangers struggled for traction on the loose shell rock.

"Just the grade of the ridge made it an unbearable walk, not including the altitude," Canon said. "It was enough to where my guys' chests felt heavy and my joints were swollen."

The Rangers at times got down on all fours - "kind of like a bear crawling up," in the words of the medic. Enemy mortar attacks punctuated the climb, although they were sporadic and poorly aimed.

"Everyone would stop and look to see where they were coming from," said Stebner, one of the squad's two team leaders. "I would say, 'You can't stop. It's not going to do us any good to stop. We have to keep moving.'"

Their weighty gear only made things worse. The Rangers' body armor alone totaled 22 pounds a set. Most of the Soldiers carried an M4 assault rifle, seven to 12 magazines of ammunition, two to four grenades, a pistol, knives, lamps, radios, night vision gear, a first aid kit and 100 ounces of water. Their helmets added another three to four pounds.

"There were some places where I had to throw my weapon up ahead of me, then climb up and pick it up again," said Spec. Jonas O. Polson, who carried one of the squad's two 17-pound M249 light machine guns, called SAWs for Squad Automatic Weapons.

Spec. Randy J. Pazder, the [incorrect: medium] heavy machine gunner, probably had the biggest load, with a 28-pound M240B gun plus 30 pounds or so of ammunition. His assistant gunner, Spec. Omar J. Vela, carried a spare barrel and another 30 pounds of ammo.

"You need to get to the top of the hill, where we'll be in a static position and can rest," Canon told them. "We've got to go, our guys need us."

When they were scrambled for the mission, most of the Rangers had been under the impression that they were being sent on a quick, in-and-out rescue. "My understanding originally, when they woke me up, was that a helicopter had been forced to land and we were going to pick up the crew - basically, just a taxi-ride type of thing," the medic said.

Anticipating a lot of sitting in cold, drafty helicopters or in stationary ground positions, many put on thermal underwear and bulky parkas that were now impeding their movement and causing them to sweat profusely. Others were wearing suede desert boots instead of cold-weather footgear. The desert boots soaked up the snow like sponges.

About halfway up, as the Rangers shimmied around a rock and hoisted themselves past a tree that jutted from the mountain face, Canon figured something had to give. "I took a look around and everybody had the, you know, 'Man, this sucks' face - just a long face," the staff sergeant said.

The Rangers began to shed their heavy clothes, and Canon relayed permission from Self that they could take off the back plate of their body armor. Getting rid of the $527 plates was a risky move. The basic Kevlar vest worn by troops protects against 9mm bullets; ceramic plates, placed in front and back, offer an additional layer to stop 7.62mm bullets - the kind fired by AK-47 assault rifles used by al Qaeda.

Removing the back plate would save only six pounds, but would allow greater mobility and comfort. Most elected to take them off. But to avoid leaving them for the enemy, the Soldiers shattered the plates by heaving them onto the rocks below.

"It's the most expensive Frisbee you'll ever throw," Canon told the men.

As they continued climbing, many of the Rangers thought of their buddies on the ridge. They knew there were casualties, although they did not know who or how many had been hurt or killed.

Many assumed that at least one of the casualties had to be Spec. Anthony R. Miceli, a SAW gunner considered the most accident-prone in the group. So legendary was Miceli's tendency to injure himself that the platoon had a saying about him: "No one could kill Miceli except Miceli."

Coming over the final rise, the first thing Canon glimpsed were the casualties spread out on the ground near the helicopter's rear ramp. Miceli's luck had held. His SAW had been shot up, but he had picked up another gun and was still in the fight. Even so, Canon was shocked to see so many dead or wounded.

A climb Canon had estimated would take about 45 minutes lasted more than two hours. Chalk 2 was joined with Chalk 1, but the Rangers would have little time to rest.

"Everybody Just Went for It"

The Rangers moved quickly to organize an assault on the ridgetop. The chief objective would be the one enemy bunker they could see - off to the right of the nose of the helicopter and about 50 yards away. An airstrike had appeared to silence the bunker, but the Rangers were not sure whether enemy fighters were still in it - or beyond.

The heavy machine gun team from Chalk 2 - Pazder and Vela - moved to a rock beside the helicopter, joining Chalk 1's machine gunner, Pfc. David B. Gilliam. Canon hunkered down between the two machine guns.

"Sergeant, I don't know if I'd get right there," Gilliam said in his thick Tennessee drawl. "I about got shot there a while ago."

"Well, I don't plan on getting shot today, Gilliam, so you just keep the fire on," Canon replied.

The assault team, composed largely of members of Chalk 2, got into position behind another rock slightly ahead and to the left of the machine guns.

The machine gunners let loose with supporting fire. Stebner, Sgt. Patrick George and Sgt. Joshua J. Walker pushed forward along with Spc. Jonas O. Polson, Spc. Oscar Escano and Staff Sgt. Harper Wilmoth. The Rangers moved at what they call the "high ready" - weapons on their shoulders, their eyes focused directly over gun sights. They tossed grenades as they advanced.

Rangers train to use two four-man teams for an assault, with the teams focusing on maneuver while other elements provide supporting fire. In this case, the Rangers had only a team and a half.

"When the supporting fire opened up, everybody just went for it," Wilmoth said. "The snow was so deep, and the terrain under it was rocky, so our footings weren't too good. We pretty much had to lead by gunfire."

The Rangers were pouring on so much fire that some of the chopper crew worried they were overdoing it. The crew yelled at the Rangers to "slow down, they're going to run out of ammo," Self said.

The assault group made it to a boulder about 40 yards up the hill, near the enemy bunker that was just around to the right. Stebner, approaching the boulder first, stumbled across a body lying face down in the snow. It was a dead American - he couldn't tell who and didn't have time to stop.

From the boulder, Wilmoth, George and Escano went for the bunker, finding two dead enemy fighters. Sandwiched between the fighters - amid the debris left by an earlier airstrike - was the body of another American. Stebner and Polson went left, then circled around right, blasting at other enemy positions over the crest.

The end, when it came, was strangely anticlimactic. The Rangers did all the shooting during the 15-minute assault. At the top, they found a network of enemy positions dug next to trees or behind rocks and connected by shallow trenches. A canvas tent sheltered one position.

The area was strewn with Chinese-made 30mm grenade launchers, sheaves of rocket-propelled grenades, a 75mm recoilless rifle, a Russian-made DShK heavy machine gun, long bands of machine-gun ammunition and assorted small arms.

The Rangers say they are not certain how many they killed. Self credits his men with killing at least two during the assault, and there were other bodies of enemy fighters scattered around the ridgetop. But the Rangers say it was difficult to determine how many had died from airstrikes or in firefights with SEALs earlier in the day. A U.S. military team that visited the site days later counted eight enemy bodies.

After the shooting stopped, Canon went to identify the two dead Americans. Near the boulder lay Roberts, the SEAL who had fallen out of the chopper eight hours earlier. Some of his military gear was later recovered elsewhere in the area, and a dead enemy fighter was found wearing Roberts's jacket. In the bunker, Canon identified Chapman.

It was about 11 a.m. Chalk 1 had been on the ridge nearly five hours.

Feeling more secure and a bit more relaxed, the Rangers shifted their command and communications post to the ridgetop. They made plans to move the dead and wounded from behind the chopper to the other side of the crest, where there appeared to be a suitable landing zone for evacuation.

Canon, the most senior noncommissioned officer on the mountain, sat down beside Self, who told him the names of the Rangers who had died. "It hit me pretty hard, and I remember having to take a second and pause," Canon said.

Self could not afford to have Canon - or any of the other men - lost in mourning, not with all that still needed to be done to get them all off the mountain.

"He said, 'Arin, there's nothing we can do about it now,'" Canon recounted. "He pretty much reminded me to get my head back into the game - 'Let's get the rest of these guys out of here alive, and we'll deal with what we have to deal with when we get back.'"

Down behind the chopper, Greg, one of the two wounded pilots, was taking a turn for the worse. "I hesitate to say he was close to dying. But he had a definite change in his level of consciousness," said Cory, the chopper's medic. "He was starting to speak to me as if he was going to die."

"I Have Only Two Magazines Left"

On the radio, Headquarters was asking whether the ridgetop was "cold," meaning no longer vulnerable to enemy attack.

"Controller asked me if the pick-up zone [PZ] was cold and how many guys we were going to lose if we waited to be exfiltrated," Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Vance, a tactical air controller attached to the Ranger unit, said in a sworn statement to Air Force authorities three weeks later. "I asked the medic, 'If we hang out here, how many guys are going to die?' The medic said at least two, maybe three. I reported to controller, 'It is a cold PZ, and we are going to lose three if we wait.'"

But just as he said that, three or four enemy fighters on a knoll to the south, 300 to 400 yards behind the chopper, opened fire.

Machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades started ripping into the casualty collection area. Bullets also ricocheted around the feet of Rangers and aircrew members carrying the first of the casualties up the hill - David, the flight engineer, who had been shot in the leg.

The group dropped the litter and ran for cover, leaving David on his back on the hillside. Stebner, one of the carriers, twiced dashed out to try to drag David behind some rocks, only to abandon him again. "I stayed out there a good 15, 20 minutes, just watching stuff go over us," David said.

The third time, Stebner reached David and pulled him out of harm's way.

Down behind the chopper, Cory and an Air Force para-rescueman, Senior Airman Jason Cunningham, had just inserted a fresh IV into Greg when they came under fire. Their position left them exposed.

"We realized we were just going to have to sit there and shoot it out with them," Cory said. "Neither Jason nor I were going to leave."

One rocket-propelled grenade came straight at them and zoomed over their heads, exploding above the helicopter. One bullet struck about three feet in front of Cory, kicking snow over him.

"We were shooting back and forth," Cory said. "And I can remember getting down, thinking, 'I have only two magazines left - something has to happen here pretty soon.'"

That's when he and Cunningham were hit.

"I had turned over on my stomach and crawled up a hill about five feet, thinking this might do something," Cory said. "I turned back on my back to shoot, and it was just shortly after that that Jason and I got shot at the same time. We were sitting no more than five or six feet apart."

Two bullets hit Cory in the abdomen, but the impact was cushioned by his ammunition pouch and belt buckle.

"It took me a little while to get up enough courage to check myself out," he said. "As a medic, you realize that a penetrating wound to the abdomen can be absolutely the worst thing. So I reached my hand down there and tried to see how much blood there was. I pulled my hand back initially and it was wet with water. That was a very reassuring sign." The water was from his punctured canteen.

Cunningham was in worse shape: He was hit in the pelvic area and bleeding profusely. Although still lucid, he was in considerable pain.

Good-natured and enthusiastic, Cunningham, 26, was popular with his fellow para-rescuemen, known as "PJs," for parajumpers. He had been a PJ for all of eight months. It was his first time in combat.

Rangers down the hill from the copter shot at the enemy position with a heavy machine gun, a SAW light machine gun, a grenade launcher and several M4 assault rifles. They watched some of the enemy fighters maneuvering around the backside of the hilltop, shooting at the Rangers from two directions.

"We could see the tops of their heads, barely," said Staff Sgt. Raymond M. DePouli, a member of Chalk 1.

Pazder, spotting an enemy fighter pop up to the left, let loose a burst from his M240B heavy {medium] machine gun and killed him.

Off to the east, about 700 or 800 yards away, the Rangers noticed four or five other enemy fighters walking up. Canon figured he could reach them with the heavy machine gun but he needed more ammunition. He sent Vela, the assistant gunner, back to the helicopter about 150 to 200 yards away.

As Vela dashed back, more enemy fire erupted and Vela dove for cover behind a rock with Stebner. "You might not want to be by me because for some reason the enemy doesn't like me," said Stebner, who had been dodging bullets trying to pull Dave to safety.

"What are you talking about?" Vela said.

Just then, a rocket-propelled grenade soared over their heads.

"That's one thing I'm talking about," Stebner said. "Every time I get up and move, they shoot at me. And now I'm laying here and they're shooting at us."

Vela crawled to another rock outcropping, joining DePouli. He wrapped the machine-gun ammunition in a bag normally used to hold the spare gun barrel and tossed it to Canon, reaching only halfway.

Canon scrambled out on all fours and dragged the bag back to the spot behind several boulders where he and Pazder were set up. Pazder passed the heavy gun to Canon, who had a better angle on the enemy below.

"We poured machine gun fire onto every tree or bush where they may have been hiding," Canon said. "I don't remember seeing them again."

The enemy fighters on the knoll kept shooting at the Rangers for more than 20 minutes. Then Navy F-14 fighter jets arrived and dropped about a half-dozen 500-pound bombs on or around the enemy position, silencing it.

"With one three-pound burst, shrapnel could be heard traveling through the air," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Gabe Brown, a Special Operations combat controller with Chalk 1 who was radioing directions to the jets. "We could see the bombs go down the hill below us, and we heard the material rising up past us, whizzing through the air."

The force of one bomb blast pushed back the helmet on DePouli's head. He called Self on the radio. "Can we get a little bit of a head's-up down here the next time we're going to make a bomb run like that?" Canon asked the platoon leader.

Self replied, "Yeah, sure, no problem."

With the enemy's southern knoll position eliminated and the northern ridgetop secured, the Rangers resumed carting the casualties - five wounded and six dead - to the other side of the ridge crest. The move, 80 to 100 yards up a snow-covered rocky incline, required four to six men to transport one casualty.

Again turning to the question of evacuation, the Rangers felt an even greater sense of urgency because of the two fresh casualties. The Ranger medic listed them both in the gravest category, "urgent surgical." He was not entirely sure just how serious Cory's injuries were, but he was definitely worried about Cunningham.

The medic had stopped Cunningham's external bleeding, but he had little idea what was happening inside. Only days before, Cunningham had been lobbying commanders to allow PJs to carry blood packs on missions and had won permission to do so. Now he received one of the blood packs he had brought to Takur Ghar.

"I Tried to Keep a Monotone"

As worrisome as Cunningham's condition was, commanders were wary of attempting another daylight rescue, knowing that this was part of what had got them into trouble in the first place that morning.

Also occupying the commanders' attention was the rest of the battle, with about 1,200 to 1,400 troops of the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions spread throughout the valley and swarms of U.S. fighter jets, bombers, helicopters and other aircraft in the skies above.

Earlier in the day, military intelligence sources had reported as many as 70 enemy fighters converging on the ridgetop. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jim Hotaling, a combat air controller who had a commanding view of enemy positions atop Takur Ghar from a ridge about two miles to the south, never saw anything approaching 70 enemy reinforcements. But he did see small groups of several fighters each maneuvering up the mountain during the day.

"Most of the enemy I was engaging was a good 1,500 to 2,000 meters away from their position, down on the bottom of the mountain and in the creek beds," Hotaling said.

At least some of the Rangers believed a daylight evacuation could be carried out and was worth the risk.

"If we had CAS [close air support] on station dropping bombs, we could have gotten out of there at that time," Vance said in his statement. "Just having the planes nearby kept the enemy away."

Vance added: "I kept telling controller that we lost another one, cold PZ, when are we getting exfiltrated? Controller said to hold on. After asking him three times, PL [platoon leader, meaning Self] expressed urgency at getting the team out of there. I continued to tell controller but he just kept telling me to hold on. After the third time, I handed the hand mike to the PL and asked him to tell controller the same thing."

"I tried to keep a monotone voice. There were times that I tried to throw some words in there to make controller realize that we have to get out. It became a personal conversation, and we kept saying we have to get out of here," Vance said.

Once, the Ranger medic got on the radio and tried to convey to headquarters the gravity of the injuries. "I felt as though if I started making a big deal about their condition, then it would worry my patients," the medic said. "You want to be open and honest, and I was, but I wasn't jumping up and down, ranting and raving, that this guy was going to die if we don't get him off this mountain."

"I said, 'Listen, here's the story. I've got two urgent surgical patients, and we need to be evac-ed.' And their response was, 'Roger, we understand.'"

The medic repeatedly assured Cunningham and the others that help was on the way. But the aircrew, especially the pilots, knew their commanders' preference for nighttime evacuations.

"I kept coming back to them saying, 'Hey guys, listen, they're going to come get us, we're going to be out of here soon, hang in there,'" the medic said. "And it was the helicopter pilots who were pretty up front about it, and they said, 'We know we're not leaving until dark because that's just the way it is.'

"I knew in the back of my head that the chances of them coming during daylight hours were slim to none, but I was trying to be positive about it," the medic said.

Cunningham's reaction? "For the most part, he listened."

Psalm 121

As the sun sank around 5 p.m., the wind kicked up and the ridgetop turned frigid.

"You couldn't get enough oxygen," Wilmoth said. "Everyone's throat was bleeding, coughing up some blood. Everyone had bad sore throats and dehydration."

The Soldiers searched the chopper for items - crew bags, equipment kits, anything that could provide warmth or something to eat.

"We probably found enough food for everybody to have a bite of something and put something in their stomachs - whether it was a pack of crackers or a Power Bar or sharing half of a cold meal" from military rations, Canon said.

Don, the chopper's air mission commander, peeled off the aircraft's sound insulation liner for blanketing the casualties. Some of the men built a lean-to out of wood from a bombed tree to keep the wind off the wounded.

"Pants, sweat shirts, jackets, blankets, sleeping bags - anything we could find that would retain heat was given to the casualties," the medic said. "Some had upwards of a foot of stuff on top of them to keep them warm."

Seated on the ridgetop, admiring the stunning vistas, Stebner told Wilmoth about how strange it was to be in such a beautiful place amid such dire conditions.

The evening before their mission, some of the Rangers, attending a Bible study group at Bagram air base to the north, had read a passage about mountains and deliverance. It was Psalm 121, which begins, "I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from"

The psalm held particular meaning for Self, who thought of it during the first moments of the firefight that morning as he rushed off the helicopter. The passage had stuck with him since a day on a road march as a West Point cadet, when he passed a chaplain standing on a hill reciting the psalm.

But as he and his men waited to be evacuated, Self did not want them getting too contemplative, and especially too mournful. Not yet.

"There were a few times here and there where guys would start to reflect on what had just happened, and their minds started to affect them a little bit," Self recalled. At those points, he would tell them, "Hey, you've got tomorrow and the rest of your lives for that."

Shortly after nightfall - at 6:10 p.m. local time, according to Self's records -Cunningham perished.

"I could tell you that we did everything that we could do up there," the medic said. "He had hung on for hours, and it was simply his time."

Two hours later, at 8:15 p.m., three evacuation helicopters began lifting everyone off the ridgetop. A fourth picked up the SEAL team on the side of the mountain.

The first helicopter landed with its tail ramp at the opposite end of where the troops had planned for it to go. The Rangers once again had to carry the casualties across icy, rocky terrain, this time 40 or 50 feet, the length of the chopper.

"It was more than once that we had to stop and set down, or one guy slipped on the ice," the medic said. "We never dropped a casualty. But I know it was uncomfortable for the casualties, even with the pain control stuff they were given. I know they were hurting. They made it pretty vocal."

Within an hour, all the troops, their wounded and dead, were loaded and gone.

"There's No Right Answer"

All told, seven Americans died on Takur Ghar that day and four were seriously wounded. In honor of the first to perish there, many among the Special Operations forces now refer to the place as Roberts' Ridge.

As for the number of al Qaeda killed, military officials do not have an exact count. The Rangers figure they shot at least 10 enemy fighters during the course of the day. Other tallies, based on accounts of the firefight involving the SEAL rescue team and U.S. airstrikes, have put the total enemy killed at as high as 40 or 50.

"It really wasn't our concern to have a good enemy body count when we left," Self said. "If they were dead, they were dead."

Operation ANACONDA ended inconclusively 19 days later. The military disrupted al Qaeda in the Shahikot valley, but an unknown number of enemy fighters slipped away to regroup over the border in Pakistan.

In the end, the Rangers accomplished their mission. They retrieved the bodies of all U.S. servicemen on the ridgetop, leaving no one behind.

Don, the air mission commander on the downed helicopter, said he was later told by a member of the SEAL rescue team that if the Rangers had not arrived when they did, the SEALs would not have lasted much longer. Although the SEALs had already started down the mountain by then, they were still under attack.

"The fire had been focused on them, and when we came in, it got diverted," Don said.

The events of March 4 have underscored the U.S. military's commitment to doing whatever is necessary to prevent any U.S. Soldiers - alive or dead - from being left on a battlefield. But the episode also has provoked debate among at least some military officials familiar with the details about the need for establishing minimal thresholds for dispatching rescue teams - thresholds that would balance the need for urgent response against the risks of going in with incomplete information.

Releasing an official report yesterday on the battle on Takur Ghar, Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the Central Command chief responsible for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, dwelt on the bravery and tenacity of the American troops involved. As for the intelligence lapses, communications breakdowns and questionable command judgments, he suggested they were simply part of the "fog" and "uncertainty" that are "common to every war."

Other military officials said the battle has led to improved communications and other changes in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan that cannot be discussed publicly. Efforts also have been made at the field level to advance coordination between conventional and Special Operations forces.

"There was no reason to believe from history that we should have been doing it any differently than we had been up to this incident," said Army Maj. Gen. Franklin L. "Buster" Hagenbeck, who commanded Operation ANACONDA from his headquarters at Bagram air base. "But we've just decided that we'll always know what each other are doing at any given time."

If the Rangers who fought on the mountain find fault with the way the mission was mounted, they are keeping any criticism to themselves. They say they knew, when they signed up, that duty on quick-reaction forces would be hazardous.

"At our level, everyone did his job superbly that day," DePouli said. "We did everything we could do. We were in a crappy situation, and we came out on top."

The Rangers, and the Army helicopter crews and Air Force members who were with them, cite a number of actions that they believe kept the casualty tally lower than it might have been.

Reflecting, for instance, on his decision to break off the Rangers' first attempted assault on the northern bunker, Self noted that the assault team included the most senior Rangers on the ridge at the time. If they had died, Self said, the others would have stood little chance of survival.

"We could have tried it again and had a couple of guys get some posthumous Medals of Honor," Self said. "But I don't know if anybody else would have gotten out of there."

Self also observed that if Chalk 2 had not made it up the mountain when it did, and then quickly assaulted the ridgetop, Chalk 1 would likely have been more exposed to the enemy's counterattack from the southeast.

"We would have had the whole force laying on the side of the hill, getting shot from behind," Self said.

Still, the Rangers remain haunted by other decisions, especially to delay their evacuation until dark. Could an earlier evacuation have saved Cunningham's life?

"It's something we've been asking ourselves now for the better part of a month and a half," Capt. Joseph Ryan, the commander of Alpha Company, which includes Self's platoon, said in an interview in early May. "But there's no right answer to that question."

Said Self: "So many decisions we made that day that could have gone the other way. A lot of what-ifs. That was one of those decisions. It was a dilemma, and there were consequences."

All in all, it was a day of both tragedy and courage, of bad luck and fortuitous timing, of poor coordination and true grit. The Ranger medic spoke about the "positives" and the "negatives" of the experience.

"The positives are, we got to play the game and everybody did exceedingly well," he said. "Everybody did what they were trained to do, everybody performed well above the standard. It's negative because, in getting to play the game, losing is very final, it's very ugly. And until you really see it like we got to see it, it's kind of this mysterious thing.

Quite frankly," he added, "I think that if guys with our job dealt with it or thought about it quite a bit, there would be a lot fewer of us."

The U.S. Army's Center for Lessons Learned (CALL) Afghanistan reports states:

"Conducting combat and maneuver at high altitudes is mentally and physically taxing. The enemy has operated at these altitudes for long periods of time and is acclimated to the thin air and familiar with the rough terrain".

Well, duhhh.

If the Army has known this or knows it now, why isn't the 10th Mountain Division being moved from flat New York to mountainous Fort Carson, Colorado so they can be acclimated all the time to fight effectively at high altitudes?

Retired Colonel David Hackworth writes in a July 2, 2002 WorldNet News article No bad units, only bad leaders

The 10th Mountain Division sure isn't the same tough outfit I saw in Northern Italy at the end of World War II, nor the squared-away unit I spent time with during the bad days in Somalia in '91 or the liberation of Haiti in '94.

The 10th troopers still wear the Mountain tab indicating they're mountain-trained which the men of the division sported so proudly in Italy when they were a superbly conditioned outfit fighting on one of the hardest U.S. battlefields of World War II.

"We don't do mountains anymore," a division sergeant told me which the out-of-shape battalions that fought during Op ANACONDA proved in spades.

"We saved their butts during ANACONDA with close air support while they stumbled around with 100-pound rucks, wheezing from the altitude, sucking up guerrilla mortar fire like magnets," says a Special Forces warrior. "No wonder the Brit Marines were sent in. And then the 10th returns home, gets a parade and 170 medals for coming under mortar attack?"

"Give me one [Special Forces] 'A' Team, and I could destroy a whole damned infantry battalion in this sorry division with one arm tied behind my back," says a division captain who served serious enlisted time in Army Special Forces. "The 10th Mountain was a great unit back when, but it's been slowly destroyed over the years by leaders who are more concerned about haircuts than hard training."

"This is my first experience with a light-infantry division," says a division captain. "I'm in awe at how poorly trained these troops are. In my two years here, we haven't done any mountain training even though there are world-class training areas right nearby in Vermont. We don't go out in the winter except to do PT, and in the summer the National Guard uses most of our training areas. Our big deal is to go out twice a year for two weeks and train up for the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk (Louisiana). All our training is geared toward passing the test there. No deviations, no special situations, just the same old canned stuff we always do. It's like having a copy of the exam and just memorizing that."

"After a recent battalion 5-mile run," according to a 10th Soldier, "75 Soldiers fell out including my 1st Sergeant." He added that his unit has a history of substance abuse and AWOL problems and that "morale's in the toilet" because heavy doses of political correctness and peacekeeping have dulled the division's combat readiness. "We've done peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai until we're blue in-the-face. This combined with operations in Afghanistan has left only 30 percent of the division at Fort Drum (New York)."

Another problem is that junior leaders are promoted too fast. "The Army says they're short junior NCOs," reports an old vet. "They're promoting when eligible, not when ready, and now we have the unqualified leading the untrained."

"After 9-11 the top brass were going nuts trying to figure a way to get us into Afghanistan," says a division major. "We finally sent one reinforced infantry battalion. A brigade commander told me, 'This is all about getting our boys in the game.' Meaning this was a way to get that critical combat efficiency report and as many glory medals and goodies as the careerists could grab."

Before their boots hit-the-ground in Central Asia, this lead battalion was joined by the "entire division staff and one entire brigade staff," a senior sergeant says. "Never before have so few been so supervised by so many. The ratio of shooters-to-staffers was amazing, and when they came back most were wearing combat patches and badges."

When candidate Bush was running for the presidency, he publicly stated that the 10th was not combat-ready. The kinder and gentler folks who were then running and ruining our armed forces ate him alive.

"There's a series of issues that have caused this division to hit the skids," says a division leader. "Many of these problems are infecting the entire Army, not just the 10th. There are great guys here in the trenches that are doing the right thing. All they need is some old-fashioned senior leadership."

Air/Ground Maneuver Vehicles for 101st Air Assault Division: no more Blackhawk Downs!

March 4, 2002. Afghanistan.


The air burst RPGs were exploding all around the MH-47E Chinook helicopter landing close to enemy positions to kick off Operation ANACONDA. As the lumbering helicopter flared to land it was hit again by RPGs throwing out the rear ramp a Navy SEAL commando. The pilots took off to avoid the ambush not realizing one of their men was on the ground. Immediate rescue efforts were launched as a Predator UAV flew overhead sending back video footage of the lone SEAL fighting the enemy all by himself but impotent to help him below. The rescue team, landing by MH-47E helicopters found themselves under intense mortar fire and their helicopter was downed. Surrounded, and pinned down in a terrain depression, its hours before they themselves are rescued. 7 men lost their lives because we made helicopters land too close to the enemy.

March 15, 2002

The Americans, now aware of the pitfalls of close delivery upon the insistence of Liaison officer, Major Charles Jarnot fly the 3rd PPCLI Canadian light infantry into battle by CH-47D Chinooks; but this time they land with BV-206 light tracked vehicles which roll off the rear ramp and give them ground mobility thereafter.

So has this lesson to first land away from the enemy really been learned finally?

This is not the first time we have lost helicopters to enemy gunfire trying to land close to or on top of the enemy, so why are we still doing this when we could land a distance away?

1963 Ap Bac: helicopters landed too close to treeline despite LTC Vann's warning not to; 3 Americans dead, 3 helicopters shot down, enemy escapes with new found means to resist U.S. helicopter tactics

1975 Koh Tang: marines force AF pilots to land in broad daylight onto enemy-held beaches; 26 men dead, 10 abandoned on the island, 5 helicopters shot down, mission aborted

1983 Grenada: Fort Frederick prison raided in daylight by helicopters flying from the valley below; 1 American dead, 1 helicopter shot down, many wounded, mission aborted

1993: Somalia: Olympic Hotel, "Blackhawk Down!" incident; helicopters hover to fast rope insert Army Delta/Ranger commandos in city center, 2 helicopters shot down, 19 men killed, enemy VIPs captured but friendly casualties cause civilian leadership to lose nerve resulting in foreign policy defeat


The problem with landing away from enemy air defenses is that the infantry are on foot and cannot move fast enough to reach the enemy and take advantage of the surprise and shock effect of the Air Assault. However, if we continue to land close or on top of the enemy we are going to continue to lose helicopters and men which places the entire viability of the helicopter Air Assault operation at risk. The answer is to use ground vehicles that accompany helicopters to transport the infantry from safer offset Landing Zones (LZs) to their assault positions, as Major (now LTC Retired) Jarnot and the operations in Afghanistan have made clear.

The Answer is an Air/Ground Maneuver Vehicle organic to Army Helicopter Units


War futurist Phil West advocates light tanks based on M113 Gavins with 120mm gun-mortars that can super-elevate to reach targets in the high ground with indirect fire

To insure that Army helicopters can land away from enemy air defenses, they must have organic to them an Air/Ground Maneuver Vehicle (AGMV) that can deploy from their insides by roll-on/roll-off and external sling-load. The AGMV that the Army needs is already in service: the M973A1 Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV) also known as the BV-206 in NATO service. Another option is to shrink some M113 Gavins already in service to a 4-roadwheel "Mini-Gavin" format like the "M113 1/2" Lynx.


A small purchase of 50 armored version SUSVs (M973A2s) or M113s converted into Mini-Gavins would enable a Ground Cavalry Squadron (-) to be formed in the Aviation Brigade organic to the 101st Air Assault Division. Manned by 100 Drivers/Track Commanders, a small command and maintenance section, the Ground Cav Squadron could transport after helicopter insertion into on offset LZ an entire infantry battalion quickly and stealthfully over all-terrain band-tracks under full armor protection to their assault objectives. The Ground Cav vehicles and personnel would be operationally controlled (OPCON) by the infantry they are transporting for the duration of the mission, providing mobility, armored protection, sustainment supplies and heavy fire support by .50 caliber and MK-19 heavy machine guns, M230 or ASP-30mm autocannon and 120mm mortars greater than what can be manpacked. 4 x AGMVs would be configured to fire 120mm mortars and the user infantry unit will provide trained MOS 11C mortar Soldiers to aim/fire these weapons. All other AGMVs would be "vanilla" infantry carriers capable of carrying up to 12 men, easily transporting the desired 9-man Air Assault infantry squad.


The Ground Cav Squadron (-) must belong to the Army Aviation Brigade to insure connectivity and interface with their CH-47D/F and UH-60L/M helicopters is maintained by vigorous RO/RO and sling-load training operations and embedded mission planning.

Army Aviation must insist that their helicopters are not forced into situations where they are blasted from the sky by providing a ground maneuver element to enable transported infantry to reach their objectives quickly and safely from safer, offset LZs. For SOF missions to prevent "Blackhawk Downs!" and "Takur Ghars" the 160th SOAR should have a ground cav troop with BV-206Ss or M113 "Mini-Gavins".

The winner is the supported infantry that "gets there firstest with the mostest" via AGMVs

During the Korean war in hilly and mountainous terrain, the U.S. Army prevailed over superior numbers of Communist infantry by terrain saturation firepower (TFS) to evict hidden foes coming from weaponry carried by Light Combat Teams (LCTs) that utilized a family of vehicles derived from the M24 Chaffee and M18 Hellcat go-anywhere, low ground-pressure light tanks:

Light Combat Teams: Where are Ours Today?

A Korean war veteran, LTG Hal Moore in recent interviews has declared that he wished that he had an armored vehicle with firepower with him that day he landed 1/7th Cavalry by helicopters at LZ X-Ray; popularized in his best-selling book and film, "We were Soldiers once and Young". General Moore stated that a helicopter transportable armored fighting vehicle would have helped him and his men win that fight with less friendly casualties. An open-area large enough for several helicopters to land on simultaneously is devoid of cover from enemy fires and inserting there, even if offset from the enemy places light infantry on foot at risk of being pinned down. The AGMV by virtue of being tracked and armored can move quickly over open area LZs in the face of enemy fires to silence them with heavy suppressive fires to secure the LZ and free infantry to move out on foot or mounted.

Infantry commanders augmented by AGMVs can use them for mobile bases-of-fire, to mount a mobile reserve, execute a mobile defense, effectively block retreating enemies over wide areas, lead/escort FMTV/HMMWV truck convoys, and lead attacks as a mounted cross-country maneuver (XCM) axis of advance.

Off-the-Shelf purchase and simple reorganization stands up the AGMV unit within 60 days

The baseline BV-206S/M973A2 or M113A4 Mini-Gavin conversion would cost about $650,000 each. Already in production for the German Army Airborne, 50 vehicles could be quickly obtained from the manufacturer to stand up the Ground Cavalry Squadron (-) in the 101st AASLT Division's Aviation Brigade. About new 120 man-slots will be needed from ARPERSCOM to fill the new unit who would be given New Equipment Training (NET) from the manufacturer when the first M973A2 or M113A4 vehicles arrive.



1. The "we don't do mountains and jungles DoD BS must stop. America's defense requires you go and fight where the threat is, not where you are comfortable and can play with your favorite war-toys.

2. Move 10th Mountain Division to Fort Carson, Colorado (mountains there). Any new base for the 10th should not just have mountains near, but be at altitude to reduce acclimatization time when deployed.

3. Move the immobile, vulnerable LAV-IIIs "Stryker" armored trucks we are stuck with after cancellation to MP BDE to Fort Drum to be there for NYC in case of another asymmetric attack. The LAVs we end up stuck buying can also be pooled at more than one location for MP constabulary operations by regular Army too. At the same time, we should buy off GM/GDLS with a plan to re-equip selected guard formations as "homeland security" battalions so they can mooch off the txpayers without murdering our men.

4. Start trusting the men and carrying full live ammo loads in training in the mountains of Colorado, APFT should be a timed ruck match.

Doesn't mean we have to shoot the ammo, just carry it so we can stop filling our rucks up with BS field comfort gear and start making the hard choices to gain 4-7 mph mobility.

5. Start relying on MANEUVER and not firepower to win wars

6. To wear the "Mountain" tab and be a member of the 10th MD, you must graduate from the ARNG Mountain Warfare School at Jericho, Vermont, both summer and winter phases before reporting to the Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.

7. Obtain Air/Ground Maneuver Vehicles to enable helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to deliver troops by airland and parachute airdrop into zones offset from enemy defenses.

8. Create a Sub-National Conflict (SNC) Corps of more mature, older Soldier ADULTS to study these types of conflicts and have the latest security technologies in hand to smother them.

Making the Afghan National Army (ANA) a mirror image of our centralized, federal bureaucratic selves is not going to secure the borders and defend local villages/towns that need their own Rural Force/Popular Forces (RUFF-PUFFs). The ANA should outpost the sensor security fence system and back it up with QRFs.


Glenn Cooper writes a proposal that would be very effective:

"I really liked your 10th Mountain article and the proposals you offer. I like to offer some tweaking to them to add to the debate.

Regarding your points under 'Solutions,' I would propose the following:

Point 2: 'Move the 10th to Ft. Carson.'

This would mean that entire division would become a designated 'mountain' division, e.g. 10th Div (MT) instead of 10th Mountain Div (Light). I suggest the following along the lines of the 75th Ranger Rgt.

* Create a regiment designated 72nd IN RGT (MT) and locate it at Ft. Carson. This regiment could operate as part of the 10th Mountain Div or be independent.

* Activate one or two battalions at Ft. Carson forming a core, active duty component. Create a Mountain Warfare School in Colorado.

* Re-designate the 3/172nd IN (MT) to the 3/72nd IN (MT) as a round-out for the new regiment. Continue operation of MWS at Camp Ethan Allen for 10th Mountain personnel at Ft Drum (still important to have this knowledge within all light infantry units), 3/72nd IN and other armed forces components (conditions in Vermont are different than CO, which would help train personnel for different climates/terrain types).

Moving the entire 10th Mountain to Ft Carson would make it a more specialized division, like the 101st or 82nd, but the worldwide need for a "generalist" like the 10th is well-proven. Hurricane Andrew, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan involved extremely different types of missions, climate and terrain.

Designating the ENTIRE 10th to mountain warfare would not be necessary. One battalion could meet the need for a highly experienced cadre of scouts and act as a force multiplier when used in conjunction with special operations/light/airborne/air assault troops and a regiment would provide the ability to put a large force in a vertical environment. I do not foresee a situation where a whole division would need to take ground in the mountains and the continuous training the entire 10th MD would need to do in mountain warfare would cause it to loose focus on it's broader mission requirements in other types of terrain and climates.

Point 4: 'Train with full loads in the mountains.'

Extremely important to be acclimated to altitude BEFORE being committed to battle much as the 10th Mountain trained at Camp Hale between '42-'44. This lesson was lost, but hopefully re-found after Operation ANACONDA.

Point 5: 'Start relying on maneuver...'

The 72nd IN (MT) would be well equipped with SUSV's for air-mech strikes in terrain that would humble M1s/M2s/M3s. As the 1st TSG (ABN) has already stated, this doctrine will work in rugged, mountainous terrain.

Point 6: 'To wear the Mountain tab and be a member of the 10th MD,...'

As with the 101st, it is understood that the tab on the 10th MD patch is kept as a historical reference. The only qualification tabs should continue to be Ranger, Special Force and President's 100. The 'mountain' tab should be part of the unit patch like 'airborne' is (e.g. not everyone in the XVIIIth ABN Corps is on jump status, but they all wear the standard patch). To avoid conflict with a newly created 72nd Mountain Rgt., the Ram's Head device should be DA approved so that graduates of the MWS can be recognized Army-wide, just as jump wings are.

When a member of the 72nd Mountain graduates both phases of MWS, he should be awarded the gray beret, which would be standard regimental head gear. This would provide the necessary differentiation between the 10th MD (Light) and the 72nd IN Rgt. (MT).

Just some thoughts, but I'm glad people are beginning to recognize the importance of this subject which has been lacking since the 10th Mountain Division was deactivated in 1945.

Ascend to Victory!"


Afghanistan Primer


*Must see enemy first, not be seen yourself

*Range is everything, weapons must have long range

*Mountains absorb direct-fire, weapons must have range

*Rocks on slopes absorb fire effects; weapons must be powerful

*Slow moving uphill to get (line-of-sight) LOS to hit enemy; infantry moves at less than 1 mph, guerrillas 4-7 mph

*Land mines everywhere; tracked vehicles clear paths ahead, engineers forward

*Maneuver difficult but necessary for success




afghanbooks.com-THE BEAR TRAP
U.S. Army FMSO Web Site
The Coming Anarchy by Robert Kaplan

1. Afghan Defense: all you fight are rear guards, as main body avoids decisive engagement by escaping to new hide sites or across the border into Pakistan in 5-10 man groups

Border Sensor-Security Fence backed by Rhodesian-style Light Mechanized Infantry, Quick-Reaction Forces (QRFs) that worked so effectively in Finland (Mannerheim Line), Algeria (Morice Line) and protects Israel today. An Afghan border security system would keep trouble-makers out and deny the Taliban safe haven in Pakistan. Cut-off from their support they can be eradicated by internal maneuver operations. The border must be sealed first.

2. Afghan Offense: they attack your base camps and road convoys

The limit of their action is ammunition. They only fight until it's gone and their logistics are limited. They like to attack and ambush advancing or withdrawing units from maximum weapons ranges. Like to send mobile teams with automatic weapons/RPGs once target is pinned by long-range fires and fight close to their enemy to negate his airpower and artillery. If "afghans only fight while they have ammo" -answer is the same as for most guerilla campaigns -control the resupply. Contary to myth guerillas don't live off the land or pluck ammo from the air. This means aggressive patrols and tracker groups, OPs, scout-sniper teams etc.


"One of our guys just got back from Afghanistan, tagging along with Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL). No, not all doctrine writers confine their research to the library and internet. The message he brought was that 'We can all be proud of how our troops are performing'.

Just a few notes:

- The enemy is as tactically proficient as we are. They are professional Soldiers, even if they don't wear helmets and patches. They are superior marksmen, not only with rifle and machine guns but with mortars and RPGs as well. They specifically targeted our mortar, but not necessarily our leaders (more on that later). They adapt quickly and change tactics as required. They take notes and study us. Yes, some of their caves were as complex as the schematics in the magazines, with vents for air and to mitigate overpressure effects of munitions, with carved corridors as wide and tall as your office, with escape route, with twists and turns to slow enemy assaults, etc.



Our DA civilian continues:

"- Our Soldiers are GOOD. A Chechen commander was killed. On his body was a diary that compared fighting the U.S. with fighting Russians. He noted that when you take out the Russian leader, the units stops and mills about, not sure of what to do next. But he added that when you take out a U.S. leader, somebody always and quickly takes his place with no loss of momentum. A squad leader goes down, it may be a private that steps up to the plate before they can iron out the new chain or command. And the damn thing is that the private knows what the hell he is doing. When units came under fire immediately after disembarking from a helicopter, it was not uncommon for two members of squad, without orders, suppress the enemy and do the buddy team IMT. No need to fret about the quality of our troops from O-3 on down.

- Yes there was close combat, although just reading news reports gives the impression that we were in holding positions enduring long range mortar fire. Our boys chased the Al Qaida and ran them down even with all of the battle rattle we were carrying. And we did it on their turf, in their environment. Gotta be in shape to do that. The body armor saved lives. At the end of the day folks were finding huge bruises on their bodies, but no holes. Also note that a great percentage of wounds are in the lower extremities.

- A word on helicopters. The Blackhawk has a tail rotor issue with thin air, probably why they aren't being used. The Chinook doesn't have that issue. The Apaches are there, and are in force, even though all the pictures we see are of USMC Cobras. The Apaches are being hit, making it back, and being returned in 48 hours or less. They proudly display patchwork on the airframe. One Apache ran for 30 minutes without oil...As advertised. In the hot LZ fight we all heard about, all but one Apache was hit but none went down.

- FM Radio and Tactical Satellite are the primary means of tactical communications. The only vehicles out there are the 4 and 6 wheeled little John Deere type tractors, which the troops say are great. (What does that say about our massive infrastructure of bureaucrats supporting Army R&D?). That means no vehicle radios. Tactical Operation Centers are more like the poncho and red-lens flashlight affair.

- USAF is great, but screwed up at the hot LZ. The troops were within sight of the LZ when they were asked to orbit for 5 minutes until the USAF prep could get in (they were running late). Rather than circle (in Chinooks, not Blackhawks) in full view of the enemy and wait on the Air Force, the Battalion Commander went on in. Can't fault him there.


*2D and 3D (airland, airdrop) mobility needed to encircle and block guerrillas from escaping

*Responsive ground firepower with ground elements

*U.S. Soldiers must carry actual live ammunition loads in training up/down steep mountain terrain to develop proper physical condition and force them to lighten their loads

*Soldiers must have carts and ATVs to carry existence loads (rucks) so they can fight quick on their feet (4-7 mph) with just "belt kit" loads to effectively prevent themselves from being ambushed and successfully chase fleeting guerrillas

*Light tracked AFVs (tanks) to carry long-term supplies and long-range weapons like high-angle, 120mm mortars so pressure maintained on enemy even if they run away up into hills/mountains or villages

Russian Nona SP 120mm mortar light tracked AFV
Battery of 120mm SP mortars firing high-angle to reach guerrillas

Russians fighting in the mountains of Chechnya....employ light BMD tracks with 120mm mortars for high-angle fire....but U.S. light tracked M113-based M1064A3 120mm mortars sit in Germany when they are needed in the mountains of Afghanistan........WHY?


1. American lightfighters in charge there think a ruck on your back and big biceps is the solution to everything and hate "mech" because they are lesser Soldiers who don't do PT like they do (why the Brits are up in the mountains now instead of the U.S. sports "PT Studs")

2. Showcasing M113 Gavins in Afghanistan would show the world that the LAV-III/IAV multi-billion dollar wheeled armored car purchases are not necessary or wise.......can't lose our "cash cow" from Congress!


Best Reference:

Snakes in the Eagle's Nest: Ground Attacks on Air Bases, 1940-1992

By Alan Vick, RAND www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR553/

Current research on global airpower trends suggests that, for the foreseeable future, few opponents will be able to challenge the U.S. Air Force (USAF) [Editor or the U.S. Army] in the air. Potential adversaries, therefore, are likely to look for alternative means of countering U.S. airpower. A recent RAND study considers various ways that adversaries can threaten U.S. air operations during a future conflict. A part of this larger study, Snakes in the Eagle's Nest: A History of Ground Attacks on Air Bases, focuses on air base attacks from 1940 to 1992.

The research shows that ground attacks on air bases have been much more frequent and successful than is commonly appreciated. In typical cases, small and lightly armed units, striking quickly, succeeded in damaging and destroying valuable aircraft and equipment. The study considers hundreds of such attacks, giving primary attention to three case-study regions in which most of the examples occurred: Crete and North Africa during World War II and Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. To identify useful lessons for future conflicts, the author proceeds by seeking answers to the following questions:

What were the objectives of the attacks?
What attacker tactics and weapons were most effective?
How were attacking forces inserted into the enemy rear area?
What defensive countermeasures worked?
Were any promising defensive measures overlooked?
What were the strategic effects of the attacks?

Four Basic Objectives

Ground attacks on air bases may be classified in terms of four separate objectives: (1) capture the airfield, (2) deny defenders use of the airfield, (3) harass defenders, and (4) destroy aircraft and equipment. Of the 645 attacks analyzed in the study, 384 (60 percent) attempted to destroy aircraft and equipment. Efforts to capture airfields were rare, especially after World War II, making up only 6 percent of the total. Only 7 percent of the attacks had the primary aim of denying use of airfields. The remaining 27 percent had harassment of defenders as their main goal. During the Vietnam War, virtually all air base attacks focused on only two objectives: destroying aircraft and harassing defenders.

Attack Characteristics

In the World War II examples, penetration of air bases was the most common attacking tactic. In Southeast Asia, however, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army attackers used standoff weapons 96 percent of the time. Recent attacks have used both techniques: Kurdish and Filipino insurgents used penetrating tactics; insurgents in El Salvador and Afghanistan relied on standoff weapons. The size of the assaulting forces has varied according to the objective. Whereas attempts to capture airfields may have required forces of regimental strength, most efforts to destroy aircraft and equipment have needed only limited forces. Such attacks have usually been conducted by teams no larger than platoons.

Insertion Techniques

With the exception of some motorized raids during World War II, virtually all air base attackers had arrived at the bases on foot. Indeed, all 493 attacks from the Vietnam War era were conducted by forces unaided by motorized vehicles. Foot travel was the most common insertion technique in the other conflicts, closely followed by combined vehicle-and-foot insertion, primarily during the British North Africa operations.

Defense Measures--Successful and Overlooked

Most large-unit attacks on airfields succeeded because defending forces were outnumbered, outgunned, or outclassed. Against both standoff and penetrating attacks intended to destroy aircraft, shortages in high-quality rear-area security forces and a lack of surveillance assets were the most common weaknesses. Axis forces in North Africa demonstrated another weakness: a notable slowness to develop countermeasures to penetrations. Conversely, U.S. forces in Vietnam made base penetration all but impossible by extensive use of minefields, fences, guard posts, and lights. These measures forced attackers to rely on standoff weapons such as mortars and rockets.

In response, U.S. defensive measures included greater dispersion of aircraft, construction of revetments, [Editor: go to link and see details of Bastion Concertainers] and, ultimately, construction of concrete shelters for fighter aircraft. The most effective means to deter and prevent stand-off attacks would have been to control the stand-off belt that extended to 11 kilometers around each base and required defenders to patrol an area that covered over 200 square miles. Some success at reducing the threat from this stand-off belt was achieved by helicopter reconnaissance flights and patrols by friendly ground forces. However, large civilian populations living near the airfields [Editor: U.S. Army Combat Camera Teams MOS-25V with digital camera technology could assist in identifying who are legitimate civilians and who are intruders moving in to attack an airbase] and the rugged terrain surrounding them hampered these efforts. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), could have diminished the stand-off threat by making air base defense a high priority for U.S. ground forces and airborne surveillance assets. MACV's refusal to do so made this threat difficult to counter and kept USAF bases vulnerable to the end of the war.

Strategic Effects of the Attacks

In one case--British special forces' attacks on Axis airfields in North Africa--the loss of aircraft from ground attacks was so severe and the airpower balance so precarious that these small actions made a major contribution to the Royal Air Force's battle against the Luftwaffe. In other instances, the loss of airfields to attacking forces enabled the attacker's air force to move in and extend its range. The U.S. island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during World War II, for example, was focused on capturing airfields. The Japanese attack on Midway sought to capture the island for its airfield; Japanese failure to do so while suffering heavy losses marked a turning point in the war. In the Vietnam War, ground attacks caused loss of aircraft, materiel, and personnel over a period of seven years. In addition, the threat forced defenders to devote substantial resources to the protection of airfields. However, despite a number of publicized incidents and repeated attacks on several bases, the level of destruction was not high. Most attacks did little or no damage, and only a handful of high-value aircraft were damaged or destroyed. Although these attacks constrained operations on several occasions, the aircraft losses they caused (only 4 percent of total USAF losses) were not significant and do not appear to have materially affected the outcome of the war.


The analysis of airfield attacks shows that basic techniques have not changed dramatically over the past 50 years. With good intelligence, mission-planning, and weapon skills, low-technology forces have demonstrated an ability to inflict considerable damage. Their simple-but-effective tactics and the strategic rationale for the attacks are as relevant today as they were in 1940. Indeed, the centrality of airpower to modern warfare makes airfields even more tempting targets than they have been. If the historical experience is any indication, standoff threats will pose a particularly daunting challenge, especially since new precision-guided munitions for mortars and other stand-off weapons could give small stand-off attacks a lethality that they lacked in the past. [Editor: this is why light tracked M113A3 Gavin AFVs need to be on air bases to be able to move a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) to respond to enemy airbase attacks---to include civilian protests---even if under enemy fire effects and not be pinned down] Advances in technology, of course, offer new opportunities for defenders as well. It remains to be seen which side will exploit such opportunities most effectively.

RAND research briefs summarize research that has been more fully documented elsewhere. This research brief describes work done in the Strategy, Doctrine, and Force Structure Program of RAND's Project AIR FORCE and documented in Snakes in the Eagle's Nest: A History of Ground Attacks on Air Bases, by Alan Vick, MR-553-AF, 1995, 165 pp., $15.00, which is available from RAND Distribution Services, Telephone: 310-451-7002; FAX: 310-451-6915; or Internet: order@rand.org. RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve public policy through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions or policies of its research sponsors.


2D and 3D (airland, airdrop) mobility needed to encircle and block guerrillas from escaping

CH-47D Helicopters w/RO/RO rear ramps to load/unload vehicles

C-130 airland/airdrop w/RO/RO rear ramps to load/unload vehicles

Vigorous overland movement by foot and wheeled, tracked all-terrain vehicles


Even if you are stumbling off the rear ramp of a CH-47 infantrymen need a gunshield on the ends of their weapons if they are to not be cut-down when jumping into enemy fires.

QRFs should be in armored tracks so they can wade into bad situations and turn-the-tables on the enemy and regain fire supremacy.

Airborne Tanks: No Excuse

Responsive, long-range, powerful ground firepower with ground elements

60mm mortars

120mm mortars


Upper receivers to convert M16s into .50 caliber Long Range Sniper Rifles


Delta Weapons Companies

.50 cal HMG

40mm MK19 HMG

TOW ATGM with 10 km ITAS thermal sights

It Maneuvers a Battalion

Disposable Rockets: Not Ideal


Re-usable recoilless rifles like 84mm Carl Gustavs are a must so we can dominate modern fights with high explosives (HE) shock action:

Why are We Armed with Just Pop Guns?

U.S. Soldiers must carry actual live ammunition loads in training up/down steep mountain terrain to develop physical condition and force to lighten their loads

*Train incoming units at Fort Carson, Colorado carrying live ammo loads

*60 pounds is maximum target individual loads = get rucksacks off everyone's back

*DROP load planning used:

Decide mobility level
Reduce unnecessary gear
Organize other transport means
Police the ranks

Lightweight sleeping bags used: www.reocities.com/equipmentshop/lwsb.htm

Soldiers dismounted away from their light armored tracks must have cart/sleds, ATVs and animal pack mules to carry existence loads (rucks) so they can fight quick on their feet to effectively prevent themselves from being ambushed and successfully chase fleeting guerrillas

ATACS bought: www.combatreform.org/atac.htm

John Deere M-GATOR or better more powerful Polaris ATVs obtained

If $ unavailable, why not take seats out of CH-47D and internal load fly two empty cargo HMMWVs to carry rucksacks for the 3D Company? Is terrain impassable to an unarmored HMMWV but not 4x4 civilian trucks enemy uses?

Light tracked AFVs to carry long-term supplies so pressure maintained on enemy A SF officer writes:

"Light forces on foot go into battle quickly by fixed and rotary-wing aircraft with 3 days of supplies. Long-Range Surveillance Units (LRSU) and Special Forces (SF) might stretch this to a week or 2 using heavy rucksacks and compressed (dehydrated rations).

Heavy armored units in ground vehicles go in with 24 hours of fuel and 3 days of ammo/food but are expected thereafter to fight indefinitely to achieve long-term battlefield control re: IDF in Palestinian territories today searching out and destroying terrorist cells intermingled with the civilian populace. A vehicle can carry bulk water, food, ammo, a human back cannot to provide needed time for maneuver to work.

...light forces can arrive quickly by aircraft to gain positional advantage but after 3 days of walking around with heavy rucks need resupply but are also in need of quality rest off the "line" (if there is a FLOT-Forward Line of Troops) re: the HBO mini-series "Band of Brothers" showing Paratroopers in a non-linear warfare situation is a good illustration. Once a FLOT was established, other units could replace the Airborne on the "line" to give them a rest. We haven't had this kind of manpower to have a second and third echelon to spell the first echelon since WWII. Since WWII there has been only one echelon of troops fighting, and they have to carry everything on their backs and recover their own dead and wounded.

Combine this lack of manpower to spell ground troops with the fluid, non-linear nature of modern combats which can take place in all directions, battle fatigue may end entire operations.

For example, Operation ANACONDA in Afghanistan recently stretched on for over 1 week (was supposed to be 3 days) and the helicopter-delivered lightfighters were exhausted and the cordon around the enemy had to be released.

Its clear that we must solve battle fatigue by proving lightfighters (SF, Airborne, Air Assault, Light Infantry Divisions) a fixed-wing parachute airdrop/airland and helicopter-deliverable LIGHT tracked armored fighting vehicles through re-equipping their dedicated "D" weapons companies and renaming them 'Dragoons' or 'Engineer Cavalry' if Sappers are attached for countermine and obstacle defeat functions that can accompany them into battle to lighten their carried loads to postpone the onset of battle fatigue and be their '2nd echelon' of sustainment, so we can prevail over our non-linear enemies with decisive encirclement, flankings and ultimately their destruction".

Get M113A3s, M1064A3 Gavins from the IRF-M in Europe, mount 2D maneuver axis Company in them


3D Company Maneuver & Block


Winter Concept of Operation

1. Flies in by helicopters or dropped by parachute from fixed-wing aircraft

2. Foot-mobile at 4-7 mph, pursuit element can drop gear with transport element

3. All Rucksacks carried in 12 x ATACS and 8 x ATVs

4. men alert to roving RPG/AKM hit/run teams

5. Pointmen, flankers with hard-body armor and gunshields make first contact

6. Thermal long-range vision from Javelin CLUs

7. Carries 1 week+ supplies

8. 120mm mortar with 7km reach or why bother if you can't reach and hurt enemy?

9. Men make Sanger fighting positions with rocks

10. Night 50% security minimum, unzipped LWSB allows vigilance via head hole

11. No glint reflections to help enemy target friendlies

12. Counter-fire available from own Javelins, 60mm and 120mm mortars or 2D Company


Company HQs (Combat Engineers attached)

3 x Rifle Platoons

Rifle Platoon

39 x Soldiers

Pursuit Element

29 Soldiers on foot

10 Soldiers with vehicles, fight after dismounting vehicles

Transport Element

2 x Javelin Soldiers tow ATACS 1

Resting point man and Driver in ATV 1

Mortar Team Sergeant and Driver in ATV 2

4 Rocket/MG Soldiers tow ATACS 2,3,4

If transport element ATVs cannot reach Pursuit element, it gets as close as possible and shuttles supplies forward and casualties back by ATACS

Soldier's Load

ID tag/card

3-color BDUs, boots

Helmet w/burlap strips, NVG hard-mounted, Sun, Wind, Dust Goggles (covered in t-shirt)

Interceptor vest

M4 5.56mm carbine w/M68 COO and anti-reflection device

Balaclava neck/head warmer



Camel-Bak with 3 quarts water

2 quarts water with canteen cup to melt snow in emergency on belt

7 x mags 5.56mm (1 in weapon)

1 hand grenade or 1 pound block of C4 plastic explosives (in buttpack)

1 M9 Wire-Cutter bayonet or 1 smoke grenade (TLs w/M203 GL have smoke grenades)


Ecotat LWSB improved poncholiner

Space casualty blanket

Poncho with cords to be tent

Night Vision Goggle

Gore-Tex Parka


SUB-TOTAL 56. 05 pounds

+Specialty Loads


Wear front body armor plates, gunshield on end of M4 carbine, rotate men into this position


6 pounds

TOTAL: 62.05

Platoon, Squad Leaders

M22 binos with anti-reflection device


Plugger GPS

Squad intercom radios


10 pounds

TOTAL: 66.05 pounds

M203 Team Leaders

Grenadier vest with 20 x 40mm rounds

+weapon is 6 pounds heavier than M4 Carbine


26 pounds

TOTAL: 82.05 pounds

Automatic Riflemen (M249 LMG)

200 extra rounds belted 5.56mm (200 on weapon, no mags)

+weapon is 9 pounds heavier than M4 Carbine


62.05 pounds

Combat LifeSavers

M3 bag w/IVs, medical supplies



13 pounds

TOTAL: 69.05 pounds

Radio Telephone Operator (RTO)

AN/PRC-119 SINCGARS, extra battery lifeline to 2D element, base


30 pounds

TOTAL: 86.05 pounds

ATACS 1 towed by Javelin Soldiers

2 x Javelin ATGMs, 1 CLU thermal observation sight


115 pounds towed or carried

ATV 1 with trailer (2700 pound load)

29 x rucksacks @ 50 pounds each = 1500 pounds

27 x Interceptor armor plates @ 6 pounds each = 162 pounds


1,662 pounds self-propelled

Rucksack Load


1 full-size sleeping bag for every other man in 2-man buddy team

1 x E-tool per 2-man buddy team

21 x Compressed MRES = 1 week food

4 quarts of water

Hygiene kit

Trimmed closed cell sleep mat


50 pounds

Weapons Squad

Same Individual Soldier's load as above


6 x M136 AT4 or M141 SMAW-D rockets

Rocket Soldier rucks


2 x 7.62mm Medium Machine Guns with 2,000 rounds in two ATACs

T&E, tripods

MG team rucksacks


2 x 60mm mortars w/ 3km range

100 rounds

Mortar team rucksacks

2D Company Fire & Block

*Could be Infantry Battalion Headquarters and D Weapons Company (doubtful that HMMWVs can follow)

*Could also be designated A, B, C Rifle or D Weapons Company

Winter Concept of Operations

1. Mounted in M973s armored SUSVs (Bv206S or Bv10S) or M113 Gavin or Mini-Gavin tracked all-terrain armored vehicles (tanks)


2. Flies in by C-130s by parachute drop or STOL airland to a nearby airstrip or stretch of road or by CH-47D helicopters

3. Infantry-carrying M113A3 Gavins have either .50 cal or MK-19 40mm HMGs to reach 2km ranges, 2,000 rounds

4. 4 x 120mm M1064A3 heavy mortar tracks with 7km range, 64 rounds each vehicle

5. Pointer hand-launch UAV to assist in targeting

6. Radio contact with all 3D elements

7. Each vehicle stocked with food (MREs) and 5 gallon water cans for long-term missions

8. Not hindered by enemy stay-behind's mortar fire




Chapter 2



Since the infantry platoon leader has no organic transportation, he requests transportation support through the first sergeant or XO. They in turn, request it from the battalion S4 or S3 Air if it involves helicopters. Whenever possible, rucksacks and excess equipment should be transported by vehicle, unless there is a specific reason not to.


The Soldier's load is a main concern of the leader. How much is carried, how far, and in what configuration are important mission considerations. Leaders must learn to prepare for the most likely contingencies based on available intelligence--they cannot be prepared for all possible operations. See FM 7-10 and FM 21-18 for detailed discussions on load planning, calculating, and management techniques used to assist leaders and soldiers in organizing tactical loads to ensure safety and combat effectiveness are discussed in Chapter 5.


Leaders must know what heavy and light forces can do for each other. In operations in which light forces predominate, airborne, air assault, or other light infantry lead the combined arms attack, all other arms support the infantry.

a. Infantrymen help heavy forces by finding and breaching or marking antitank obstacles. Infantry provides security for armored vehicles. They detect and destroy or suppress antitank weapons. They designate targets for tanks to destroy by main gun fire and continue to assist by spotting the impact of tank rounds for the gunner.

b. Heavy forces help infantry by leading them in open terrain and providing them a protected, fast moving assault weapons system. They suppress and destroy enemy weapons, bunkers, and tanks by fire and maneuver. They also provide transport when the enemy situation permits.


Soldiers ride on the outside of armored vehicles routinely. So long as tanks and infantry are moving in the same direction and contact is not likely, soldiers should always ride on tanks.

a. Guidelines for Riding on all Armored Vehicles. The following must be considered before soldiers mount or ride on an armored vehicle.

(1) When mounting an armored vehicle, Soldiers must always approach the vehicle from the front to get permission from the vehicle commander to mount. They then mount the side of the vehicle away from the coaxial machine gun and in view of the driver.

(2) If the vehicle has a stabilization system, squad leaders ensure it is OFF before giving the okay for the vehicle to move.

(3) The infantry must dismount as soon as possible when tanks come under fire or when targets appear that require the tank gunner to traverse the turret quickly to fire.

(4) All Soldiers must be alert for obstacles that can cause the tank to turn suddenly and for trees that can knock riders off the tank.

b. Guidelines for Riding on Specific Armored Vehicles. The following information applies to specific vehicles.

(1) M1. The M1 tank is not designed to carry riders easily. Riders must NOT move to the rear deck. Engine operating temperatures make this area unsafe for riders. (Figure 2-74.)


(a) One infantry squad can ride on the turret. The Soldiers must mount in such a way that their legs cannot become entangled between the turret and the hull by an unexpected turret movement. Rope may be used as a field-expedient infantry rail to provide secure handholds.

(b) Everyone must be to the rear of the smoke grenade launchers. This automatically keeps everyone clear of the coaxial machine gun and laser range finder.

(c) The infantry must always be prepared for sudden turret movement.

(d) Leaders should caution Solders about sitting on the turret blowout panels, because 250 pounds of pressure will prevent the panels from working properly. If there is an explosion in the ammunition rack, these panels blow outward to lessen the blast effect in the crew compartment.

(e) If enemy contact is made, the tank should stop in a covered and concealed position, and allow the infantry time to dismount and move away from the tank. This action needs to be practiced before movement.

(f) The infantry should not ride with anything more than their battle gear. Personal gear should be transported elsewhere.

(2) M60. The procedures for mounting infantry on M60-series tanks (Figure 2-75) are as follows:

(a) One infantry squad can ride on the turret or on the back deck clear of the turret. Tine problem of sudden turret movement is not as great as with Ml-series tanks, but the soldiers must still be prepared for it.

(b) Everyone must be to the rear of smoke grenade launchers.

(c) If enemy contact is made, the tank should stop in a covered and concealed position, and allow the infantry time to dismount and move away from the tank. This action needs to be practiced before movement.

(d) Even on the M60-series, there is not enough room for the infantry to ride with anything more than battle gear.

Be advised their numbers are off....every Soldier carries/wears 6 pounds of BDUs, 5 pounds of boots and a Interceptor vest of 6 pounds......another 20 pounds FYI...



1. SOLDIER'S LOAD. Determining the Soldier's load is a critical leader task. The Soldier's load is always METT-T dependent and must be closely monitored. Soldiers cannot afford to carry unnecessary equipment into the battle. Every contingency cannot be covered. The primary consideration is not how much a Soldier can carry, but how much he can carry without impaired combat effectiveness.

a. Combat Load. The mission-essential equipment, as determined by the commander responsible for carrying out the mission, required for Soldiers to fight and survive immediate combat operations. When possible, a Soldier's combat load should not exceed 60 pounds. There are two components:

(1) Fighting load (the essential items needed to fight) includes bayonet, weapons, clothing, helmet, and LBE and ammunition. Items will be added or deleted based on METT-T and other factors.


Weight (Pounds)

Helmet, ballistic. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.4

Pistol belt, suspenders, and first-aid pouch. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.6

Canteen, 1-quart, and cover with water (2 each). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5.6

Case, small-arms (2 each). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.8

Bayonet with scabbard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3

Protective mask with decontamination kit. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3.0

Rifle, M16A2 with 30 rounds 5.56-mm Ball . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8.8

Magazines (6) with 180 rounds of 5.56-mm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5.4

Grenade, fragmentation (4) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.0


Total 34.9

(2) Approach march load includes those items that are needed for extended operations. These are dropped in an assault position, ORP, or other points before or on enemy contact. Items may be added or deleted from this list based on METT-T and other factors.


Weight (Pounds)

ALICE, medium with frame. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.3

Rations, MRE (2 each) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.6

Canteen, 2-quart, and cover with water. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4.8

Toilet articles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.0

Towel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.2

Bag, waterproof. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0.8

E-tool with carrier . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.5

Poncho, nylon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.3

Liner, poncho . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.6


Total 22.1

NOTE: This list keeps the "droppable" rucksack load under 30 pounds and the overall combat load under 60 pounds.

b. Sustainment Load. The remaining equipment and materials needed for sustained combat operations must be carried by company and battalion assets.

c. Load Management Techniques. The leader decides, based on METT-T what will be carried in rucksack and what will be carried within immediate reach of soldier.

(1) Soldiers distribute loads evenly over body and LBE.

(2) Nothing is carried on the front side of the LBE that prevents the soldiers from taking well-aimed shots.

(3) Distribute loads throughout the platoon.

(4) Rotate heavy loads among several Soldiers.

(5) Always consider transportation assets to carry loads.

(6) Drop rucksacks on enemy contact, or leave them in an ORP, an assault position, or the assembly area.

(7) Share or consolidate items.

(8) Consider carrying fewer rations for short operations.

(9) While carrying rucksacks, use water and rations carried in it first. After rucksacks have been dropped, Soldiers will still have a full supply on their LBE.

NOTE: Items common to everyone's load are located in the same place.

The Army's CALL Afghanistan report goes into detail on altitude sickness:


Soldiers deploying to Afghanistan will adapt to the conditions they may face and will perform their mission well once they understand the simple rules of soldiering at high altitudes.

What Soldiers can expect while conducting high-altitude operations

Many Soldiers are recreational skiers, skiing under the pristine conditions of some high glacier or mountain in Europe or in the western United States, and often experiencing the symptoms of high-altitude sickness. The headaches, the lethargic feeling, the lack of an appetite, the feeling of exhaustion, and the dehydration associated with the energy expenditure on the slopes have made many skiers call it an early day. The same skiers return the following day unaware of their increased resistance to the high altitude. This newly discovered energy is simply becoming adjusted to their new environment. In many cases, the skiers increase their energy level expenditure for each subsequent day, with growing familiarity, conditioning, and confidence in their new surroundings. The skiers are simply compensating for each day's problems by drinking a lot of fluids, eating well at night (eating in many cases way above their normal intake), and dropping into a sound and restful sleep. They emerge from their hotel the next day rested and ready to deal with the slopes and their new surroundings, having adjusted their body and mind to the conditions.

The high-altitude battlefield

The al-Qaida and Taliban forces that U.S. and coalition forces are fighting in Afghanistan have numerous factors favoring their use of high-altitude operations. The high-altitude Afghanistan region bordering Pakistan resembles the area on the Pakistan and India border where numerous clashes have occurred between Pakistan and India. This includes battles on the Siachin Glacier, which has the distinction of being the world's highest battlefield at 19,000 feet. The Indian and Pakistani armies facing each other on this battlefield have been credited as being the foremost experts of high-altitude warfare for good reason. In operations against each other, their casualties have been high, yet the most significant factor is that 80 percent have been directly related to either cold or high altitude.

High-altitude conditions

Soldiers operating at high altitudes can expect some significant health problems that they otherwise may never encounter. With the current combat operations in Afghanistan, many Soldiers, marines, and coalition forces are soldiering in conditions that in the past were the operational environment and realm of well-trained Special Operations Forces (SOF). High-altitude operations increase energy requirements by as much as 50 percent and, coupled with cold temperatures and increased physical activity, have the potential of making Soldier missions a secondary thought to surviving. The increase in physical activity may only be offset by thorough acclimatization and conditioning and equipment designed for the conditions, as well as special skills and training. These factors may have a direct impact on how a soldier performs in high-altitude conditions.

Rugged conditioning.

Thorough acclimatization.

Cold weather injuries.

Sunburn, windburn, and overexertion, creating sweat and wetness, even under cold conditions.

Calorie intake of up to 6,000 calories per day.

Confidence in leaders ability to deal with the altitude and conditions.

Acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a sickness that may begin at 8,000 feet above sea level. The symptoms listed below may be linked to a high rate of ascent. Many factors influence who becomes ill and who does not. A modest descent may easily reverse the following symptoms:

Headache, and possibly some dizziness.

Sleep disturbance.


. One illness and a step up from AMS that has the potential for disrupting military operations, and one with life-threatening implications, is hypoxia. Hypoxia is high-altitude sickness in its worst form. It is a condition in which the tissues of the body are starved for oxygen. The body reacts to this loss of oxygen by increased breathing to get more air. The physical activity of the body increases the heart rate. This condition can cloud judgment. Symptoms of hypoxia include dizziness, giddiness, a tingling sensation, euphoria, blurred and/or tunnel vision, lack of muscle coordination, and a demonstrative slow reaction time. The condition affects every soldier differently depending on the Soldiers age, general health, physical conditioning, and training.

The results of hypoxia can have minimal effect on an individual at 10,000 feet, but will surely increase in effects as that individual increases altitude, with a loss of consciousness and possible death above 35,000 feet. Operations above this level absolutely require an oxygen supply. The distance in altitude between 10,000 feet and 35,000 feet in operational terms is directly related to the effects of hypoxia on the Soldier's ability to accomplish the mission without taking into account the other factors of mission, enemy, terrain, troops available, and time available (METT-T).

What Soldiers in high-altitude conditions should and should not do

What should a Soldier eat while operating at high altitudes?

Remember, weight loss is a characteristic of operations at high altitude; Soldiers must guard against weight loss. The average weight loss for a special forces team working with the high-altitude mountain school in 1994 was 20 to 25 pounds while living on Pakistani rations. Their schedule included 6 days of activity, 12 hours a day, but just moving around created exertion beyond the normal. The bottom line in working at this altitude is that you are going to lose weight, but you must control weight loss before it becomes incapacitating. This weigh loss leads to fatigue, loss of strength, and psychological changes, such as decreased mental capacity and alertness, along with low morale. All of these conditions can contribute to accidents and a failure to accomplish the mission.

What Soldiers should eat and drink while operating at high-altitudes

Eat a high-complex carbohydrate diet, eating portions of the complete ration verses one item or the other.

Eat a least one hot meal a day, using whatever heat source is available (i.e., chemical heat packs in MREs).

Eat a variety of foods and plan snacks.

Drink 4-6 quarts of non-caffeinated beverages a day and monitor the color and volume of your urine for possible dehydration (dark yellow means take action). What Soldiers should NOT eat or drink while operating at high-altitudes

Do not skip meals, although you will not feel like eating. Consume a little of everything in your ration.

Do not eat high fat snacks or fatty foods or consume alcohol of any type.

Do not force feed. This will result in vomiting and will make the situation much more hazardous.

Do not drink unpurified water or melted snow that is not properly treated.

Do not restrict water intake to save it for later, or attempt to avoid urinating.

Altitude sickness in most forms is preventable. Leaders must take precautions to protect their soldiers at moderate altitudes to avoid illness. Successful strategies to prevent altitude sickness are simple and inexpensive: spend a night at an intermediate altitude before moving higher, take it easy one day at each succeeding altitude level, drink plenty of fluids, eat a full diet, and avoid all alcohol.

Noted adventurer, Phil West adds:

"Altitude sickness is not just something that effects mountain climbers. It is usually suffered as a severe headache and generally feeling rotten-untreated it can be fatal.

Altitude sickness is caused by going too high too fast. Your body cannot take up oxygen as efficiently at the lower air pressure. 'Too High' generally being any altitude above 8000ft/2500m. A hiker walking up a mountain in easy legs is less likely to be effected than someone who drives to the summit. Individual susceptibility varies a lot too.

Prevention is to change altitude slowly and allow time for your body to acclimatise. Walk up, rather than drive or fly. This advice is not a lot of use if you are flying into a ski-resort, however.

Acclimatisation takes from 1 to 3 days at a given altitude. During this time don't over exert yourself and drink plenty of fluids. A high carbohydrate diet helps. Once acclimatised don't increase altitude by more than 1000ft/300m per day, and have a rest day every 3000ft/900m gained. If you exceed this rate you will need to spend time acclimatising again at the new altitude.

If you begin to show symptoms you should not increase altitude until symptoms go down. (Climber's maxim "Don't go up till symptoms go down")

If symptoms increase, you should decrease altitude ('go down if symptoms go up'). A drop in altitude of just a few hundred feet (100m) will show an improvement in condition. If really bad, a descent of at least 1000-2000ft (300-600m) will be needed.

Your respiration rate when sleeping is reduced, so you will suffer less from altitude sickness if you sleep at a lower altitude than where you spend the day.

If you've flown into a ski-resort from a low land area there is a good chance of altitude sickness, but moving to a lower level rather removes the objective of your holiday. The drug Diamox (Acetazolamine) in 125mg doses twice daily has been found to reduce symptoms and speed acclimatisation. Dosage should start the day before ascent. Diamox is a prescription drug that can cause side effects and allergic reactions, so this should be discussed with your doctor and possibly tried out before the trip."