A recent story by combat correspondent Cpl. Paul Peterson, offers a look into ongoing operations on the eve of the Afghanistan drawdown. The majority of U.S. and allied troops are slated to leave the country in 2014, but Marines in southern Afghanistan continue to engage in intense, hours-long firefights even as the Corps prepares to begin shipping men and equipment home.
A few recent command shifts have taken place preceding the pull out including the handover of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing forward to Col. Scott Jensen from Brig. Gen. Gary Thomas.
But, those on patrol continue to take regular contact. One such fight recently occurred in the Nad Ali District, of Helmand province Afghanistan. Peterson was along for a dawn mission during which 2nd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines made contact with a group of determined insurgents. The unit quickly found itself battling for its survival over about 5 hours. An excerpt from his account of the battle:
“Lance Cpl. Nathan Chandler, a machine gunner, and three or four Marines under [2nd Lt. James] Salka moved in behind us. The crickets and roosters that echoed across the desert only minutes earlier were suddenly silent as we moved across the field.
The sound of machine guns ripped the silence. Several insurgents began firing to our left, so the Marines in the front of the patrol crouched low and ran to a nearby house. Lance Cpl. Nathan Gulbronson was running in front of me with his M32 grenade launcher sticking out of his pack. He decided the house was too far away, so he juked, sagged to his knees, and let his body fall prone into the dirt. I slid into one of the shallow irrigation ditches.
I could no longer see Salka or the Marines. Chandler was still behind me, cheek nestled against his machinegun, screaming out for a smoke grenade. Rounds zipped and cracked over our heads.
Chandler and Gulbronson shouted back and forth – Run or stay put?
Their packs were heavy, gear cumbersome, and it was nearly 100 yards to the compound. There would be no moving without support.
A smoke grenade landed in the field and spit a green cloud between us and the shooters. Bravo Company’s snipers and machine gunners fired back at the insurgents. Fire over the field slackened. We ran.
Nearly an hour into the firefight, a call came across the radio that a Marine had been hit. I knelt inside a small, walled-off garden when a surge of gunfire rang out in the distance. I didn’t know it at the time, but Bravo Company was providing suppressive fire as a team of Marines ran into the open to grab the injured Marine. They dragged him back to cover and immediately began first aid.
Salka relayed the injury of the Marine over the radio—gunshot wound to the abdomen. Salka requested a medical evacuation and a helicopter was inbound within minutes.
Each squad of Marines held their positions and prepared to support the evacuation. The fields around the bazaar fell silent as the medevac moved in to pull out the wounded Marine.
As the helicopter made its approach, the insurgents concentrated their fire in an attempt to shoot it down.
Streams of bullets from AK47s and machine guns erupted from compounds around the area.
As we left the bazaar, insurgents once again attempted to pin us down in an open field. Helicopters flying overhead provided cover fire for the Marines, killing one insurgent fighter, as the Marines took shelter in a building.
By the end of it, I was pretty exhausted. We had been running, crawling, walking and running again in full gear for more than twelve hours. We had patrolled nearly four miles of the district and zigzagged in and around the bazaar for who knows how many more. We spent almost four hours under constant fire from the enemy. The energy I got from the bag of gummy bears I ate for lunch was gone.
Evening loomed as Bravo Company streamed out of the village and converged on the extraction point to wait.
Dusk settled over us as we finally slipped back onto our helicopters under the cover of darkness. I was thankful for the thrum of the CH-53.”
For the full version see Peterson’s story “Under Fire.”