Wednesday, August 19, 2009

2/8 Marines Engage in 6-Hour Firefight With Taliban Insurgents

Sgt. Jonathon Delgado, a squad leader with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, looks back for a casualty evacuation helicopter in the middle of a six-hour firefight with Taliban insurgents here Aug. 13. Delgado is from Kissimmee, Fla. (Report by Photo by 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl, Regimental Combat Team 3.)

NOTE: Related photo galleries to follow.
Dispatches from the Front:

MIAN POSHTEH, Aug. 19, 2009 -- Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers departed their outpost on a combat patrol, Aug. 13, that turned into the largest firefight here since July 4.

The Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, waged an intense six-hour battle with Taliban insurgents who opened fire on the patrol just after 8 a.m.

After moving only about one mile from their combat outpost, the Marines received a heavy volley of enemy gunfire from multiple directions. Without hesitation, the Marines and ANA returned fire to suppress the enemy positions, began maneuvering on the insurgents and call for fire support.

"We sent out the combat patrol anticipating contact," said Capt. E.A. Meador from Laurel, Miss., the company commander. "They always try to hit us in that area."

Within minutes, an AH-1W Super Cobra and a UH-1N Huey were on station overhead to help suppress and engage enemy targets. The Cobra fired several five-inch Zuni rockets into one of the compounds from which the patrol was receiving sustained fire.

The friendly forces maneuvered through thick corn fields with slippery mud while enduring temperatures that exceeded 120 degrees in the afternoon. The muggy heat rose from the corn fields as if it were a sauna, and the Marines sunk into the mud with each step making it feel like weights were attached to their ankles.

"I didn't think it was possible to move so fast through mud like that," said Lance Cpl. Timothy Daughtry, a squad automatic weapon gunner.

In addition to those already challenging conditions, each Marine carried no less than a 60-pound combat load to include body armor, ammunition and water at a minimum. Despite the potential distractions offered by these extreme conditions while under fire, the Marines executed sound judgment calls and made rational decisions without hesitation.

"At the squad and platoon level, the Marines are out there every day and do a phenomenal job," said Meador. "They come back beat and tired, but they are always ready to do it again the next day."

During the engagement, the squad leaders were encouraging and directing their Marines to ensure they were doing everything they could to stay effective and in the fight. No matter how tired they became as time wore on, the voice of experience could be heard across the battlefield.

"Push forward. Keep your dispersion," called out Sgt. Jonathon Delgado, a squad leader from Kissimmee, Fla., as his Marines pressed through the corn field to maneuver on one of the compounds hiding the enemy.

By 1 p.m. – five hours into the engagement – many of the Marines had run out of water. So, water and ammunition redistribution began from those who still had a reserve and continued throughout the remainder of the day as needed.

During the firefight, the Marines were successful in calling in several types of precision ordnance on the insurgent fighting positions, which included rockets fired by the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems based at Camp Dwyer 15 miles away; 81mm and 60mm mortars; and a 500-pound bomb from a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber.

"We caught them by surprise with our indirect fire assets and inflicted heavier casualties than in the past," said 1st Lt. Kyle Kurtz from Greensborough, N.C., the company's executive officer.

The Marines and ANA eventually maneuvered up to and cleared the insurgent positions initially used to launch the ambush. One moment they were fighting in open fields, and the next they were clearing rooms the insurgents had used as fighting positions – two very different and challenging combat techniques. One squad, expecting to encounter some resistance, went to clear the western compound where the patrol had initially taken heavy fire. As they entered the compound, the only thing that was they found were brass casings and links from the enemy's machine guns.

"It was tense going through the compound," Daughtry commented. "You never know exactly what is coming around the corner."

Between the sprints across the corn fields under fire to clearing compounds, the Marines felt lucky to have made it through the day unscathed.

"I definitely think I have had an angel watching out for me at times," said Lance Cpl. Josh Vance, a team leader from Raleigh, N.C.

In past firefights here, insurgents have kept their distance when engaging the Marines, but things were different during this battle.

"This was the first time in a while that we were able to close with the enemy so effectively," Kurtz said. "We were within 50-75 meters – right on top of them."

The platoon-sized element that took the initial contact was only one surprise Company E had for the insurgents this day. When they started to run, a second platoon was sent out to meet them.

The Taliban militants displaced to another location they had used to launch attacks from in the past – a large wall. During the follow-on fight, the Marines were able to cut off the insurgents' escape route and deny them the ability to use the wall for effective future attacks.

"It was a very successful day for us," said Kurtz.

(Report by 1st Lt. Kurt Stahl, Regimental Combat Team 3.)

COMBAT CAMERA More Combat Camera Imagery on THE TENSION

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