In Pictures: US troops search for insurgent recoilless rifle team


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Click the image above to view photographs.

The photographs above chronicle events in the Sabari district of Khost province, Afghanistan on Aug. 15, 2011. The first photograph shows a rocket impact during a complex attack involving three rockets and at least one recoilless rifle round shot from two directions toward Combat Outpost (COP) Sabari. The remainder of the images chronologically depict a subsequent joint US-Afghan Army patrol to search a nearby village for individuals and/or weapons suspected of carrying out the attack on the COP.

During the ensuing search, a US Army infantry squad was attacked with grenades in an enclosed courtyard, and six soldiers were injured. After US and Afghan soldiers returned fire in the direction of the grenade throwers, the Afghan soldiers retreated to their vehicles; this movement left the US squad, nearly half of them injured, trapped in the qalat. With the arrival of air support from F-16s and low-flying Kiowa helicopters, the Americans evacuated their wounded to vehicles 100 yards from the compound, followed by a hectic return to the COP and medevac for three of the most seriously injured.

See Long War Journal report, US troops weather rockets, recoilless rifles, and grenades in Sabari, for more details on the events described above. All photographs by Bill Ardolino for The Long War Journal.



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READER COMMENTS: "In Pictures: US troops search for insurgent recoilless rifle team "

Posted by villiger at August 18, 2011 4:06 AM ET:

Every time i see the Taliban succeed, it astonishes me what reach they still actually have. And then the question arises as to whether this brutal war is winnable, and how does/will one define a win. (particularly given Pakistan's involvement and ambitions.)

Bill thanks for the story and the pictures. Also, every time one sees pictures, one is reminded of how beautiful the countryside is, albeit some very difficult terrain. Its a shame all this money that is being spent on the war cannot be peaceably spent on building Afghanistan's infrastructure and economy. I mean, the population is only about 28 million, compared with Pakistan's 180m, India's 1.2billion and Iran's 75m, it is very manageable.

But its all about conflict and its in Pakistan's interest that Afghanistan remains conflicted, because they don't have a handle on their own economy and their country is simply unmanageable.

It is therefore time for serious initiatives to begin in the direction of balkanizing this region. The status quo is obviously not tenable.

Posted by Boris at August 18, 2011 7:42 AM ET:

Fascinating pictures.

Something caught my eye and I was reminded of the fact that the Afghan National Army is made up of recruits who are from various parts of Afghanistan.

Picture 8 captions reads that the ANA were convinced the man was Taliban. Why? Because he is Pashto and they are possible Afghans from the North?

Picture 12 shows an ANA soldier resting on the owner of the residence's cot. Unless the owner actually said "Have a seat, relax" to the ANA soldier, wouldn't this come across as rude or a show of power by an Afghan from a different tribe, ethnic background who may not be from a Pashto area.

I'm quite the layman and know very little about Afghanistan, but it's possible that Afghan soldiers who dislike the Taliban and their manly Pashto tribal origins, members, may experience cultural friction when going into these villages with US forces.

Thank you for this insightful read too, keep up the great work Bill/s!

Posted by mike at August 18, 2011 8:42 AM ET:

This group of pictures show what is wrong with our involvement in AfPak...hostile/lying population, cultural disconnect between US, Afgan govt and the local population, lazy "government" trops laying on a citizen's bed, same troops apparently abandoning the US troops while in contact, Americans injured, and additional US blood and treasure spent on a resistant population.

How long until the Taliban convinces their 11th Century mentality population that the eye-scan is actually a Crusader mind-warping device to convert the umma to Christianity?

as much as i support the mission, with a tribal corrupt, society historically resistant to a centralized, secular-western style governmental structure, and a centralized, corrupt government making all of those doubts about its credability a reality, IMO there is no way to "win" this war - because holding until Karzi et.al "see the light" is becomming more of a pipe dream every day.

Its depressing and disappointing that after 10 years and all of our Best and Brightest in Defense and State working on this - the best we can come up with is continuing to pour money down the throat of Karzai until he chokes, and having American boys get shot in a mud village on behalf of a thankless local population.

Posted by Scott Durst at August 18, 2011 10:20 AM ET:


I want to thank you for bringing the story to the American people. My son Cody is in this picture helping his fellow soldier with his wounds. I was in Iraq for17 months and could put myself in this picture many times. What makes me upset is the Afghan soldiers who run off and leave the very men who are putting their lives on the line for them and their country. It's time to get out!

Posted by annette at August 18, 2011 11:57 AM ET:

brendon karlssontuttle is my son..and to see this proves the reality of this war... makes me very sad

Posted by Infidel4LIFE at August 18, 2011 12:39 PM ET:

MIKE is right. There is no military victory to be had here. They have safe haven in PAK, and they have free reign. Its a merry go round we need to get off of. Damn i feel for those guys.

Posted by JRP at August 18, 2011 2:00 PM ET:

Neutralizing or eliminating Al Qaeda in AFPAK is why we are in the region and why we must remain in the region. If we fail to persevere and persist, inevitably we'll face a calamity equal to or greater than 9/11/2001. By hook or by crook we've got to capture/kill Zawahiri and his cohorts in AFPAK and ditto for Yemen. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Unlike Korea and Vietnam, the War on Terror is an existential war for the United States. I can't see any option other than staying the course for as long as it takes, even if it means 2041 vice 2014.

Posted by Steve at August 18, 2011 3:18 PM ET:

JRP, I agree completely. However, as a father of a 19 year old infantry soldier that is currently training for his first tour over there, I can also understand the feelings shared here by other parents. I'm not sure that what we're doing in regards to COIN is helping in the overall WOT. It appears as though most Afghans don't want us there and to hear reports of the ANA turning tail and leaving our boys hanging is too much for me to deal with. I'm all for taking the initiative in Pak, Iran, Yemen, and Somalia, but trying to improve the lives of people who don't care one way or the other is insane. I don't believe that a somewhat stable Afghanistan would matter at all. The center of gravity shifted from Af to Pak 9 years ago. It's time to follow them where they went and keep hunting them where ever they go.

Posted by Soccer at August 18, 2011 3:18 PM ET:

Yes JRP, but the rules of engagement certainly don't help our soldiers either. And if they stay as restrictive as they are right now, I think we might even stay past 2041.

Posted by James at August 18, 2011 6:08 PM ET:

I know I'm guilty of 'Monday morning quarterbacking' here, but what I find at least more than a trite suspicious is that those grenades went off a short time after our guys had released the guy that the ANA was swearing up and down was a taliban agent.

What we are witnessing here is but a microcosm of what they refer to as 'mission creep' at its ugliest.

I had major reservations about this Stanley McChrystal 'population-centric' 'win hearts and minds' strategy right from the get go.

I say put our guys as high up in elevation as we can get them (and support them and more importantly where they will be safe) and work our way down from there.

I say use a 'top-down' strategy instead of an 'outside-in' strategy; or, at least give it a good faith effort and have it as a secondary or fail-safe back-up plan.

Let the successful mission where our guys were finally able to eliminate bin laden serve as a role model for future missions.

Why can't our guys just go in long enough to eliminate the bad guys and then leave? Afterwards, if those people need our help and we have it available to give them then we can give it to them.

Also, why can't those [so-called] 'good Afghans' be trained off-site (like at NATO installations in Europe) by all those [so-called] 'allies' of ours?

Just thank God that what we saw happen there in those pictures wasn't worse.

Also, these guys look to me to be like conventional forces. This is not a conventional war and we're never going to succeed in using a wholly (or even predominantly) conventional force structure.

Let's turn this thing over (at least predominantly) to quick-attack hit&run special forces with as little (if any) conventional force footprint as possible.

Again, just my two cents on the matter.

Posted by Mr. Nobody at August 18, 2011 6:13 PM ET:

@ Steve- I served two tours in Afghanistan and just returned from the most recent tour. I can assure you that the majority of Afghans want us there or are indifferent. It is a very violent minority that is holding the majority hostage. Whole villages can be terrorized by three insurgents on motorbikes in the dark of night. Insurgents have systematically assassinated tribal elders and local leaders causing fear and panic among those people. Just like if our own head of police, mayor, and religious leaders were assassinated over a decade or more, the average citizen would feel helpless and afraid. I've personally worked with some outstanding ANA/ANP who were fearless and loyal to the core. I was wounded by a grenade along with the ANP commander and several of his men. It was Afghan medics who got to me first and rendered immediate care. Nobody ran. This is just one event in a very long conflict over a vast countryside. As in all wars you will have the good, bad, ugly and beautiful. Your son volunteered for the military during a period of global conflict. The risks are there but the risk we face as a nation for allowing Afghanistan to return to pre 9/11 are far greater. He may very well find himself in Somalia, Yemen, Iran, etc... Let this be a lesson to your son and every soldier. Don't crowd up in a confined courtyard. Get security up high and on the perimeter. Train your Afghans well for they will resort to their lowest level of training when the bullets start to fly. God bless your son, all who are in harms way and their families.

Posted by Cherie Maday at August 18, 2011 10:30 PM ET:

SSG Dustin Bell is my son. I am so very proud of him. I pray he stays safe. And all of his men.

Posted by steve at August 18, 2011 10:36 PM ET:

praying for these names and faces I saw in these pictures....for strength, courage, wisdom, safety and success in performing their missions. praying for US leadership to be smart and focused and honest in the assessment of the situation. praying for all the families back here in the US to keep on praying fervently for the safe return of your sons and fathers. Gob Bless You all

Posted by nancy at August 19, 2011 6:18 AM ET:

This is a heart wrenching article and a brief look at a day in the life of our brave young soldiers. What courage and self sacrifice. I pray every day that they make it through safely, and are victorious over the enemy. I have a son, Joe over there, who is so dedicated to the unit he is with. They become family. I cannot help but feel we are trusting the Afghans way too much however. This article validates my sentiments. At any rate, I know without a doubt that God is bigger than any of it. God bless and keep our troops!

Posted by sinanju at August 21, 2011 2:46 PM ET:

This is so much like Viet Nam it's not funny anymore.


You have an abjectly corrupt, incompetent central government in the capital.


You have an enemy with safe haven and sources of supply and recruits just across the border.


You have a well-funded (this time by us) "ally" (at least Cambodia's Prince Norodom Sihanouk pretended to be "neutral") in Pakistan--a totally dysfunctional, failed state.


And you have a hamstrung, ROE-hobbled military with allies of varying degrees of utility, some very good, some worse-than-useless. Certain units in different AO's are pursuing good ideas but all seem to be hermetically sealed off from each other and (SEAL's, Marines, Special Forces, etc.) working at cross-purposes such that information and methods are not being shared.


Not to mention the usual spate of willy-nilly reconstruction scandals and millions in aid money vanishing down assorted ratholes.


I do not believe the war is unwinnable, nor do I believe the Afghans are a lost cause but this is the sort of decentralized, village-based war that won't be won by drones or commandos or big ticket development projects imposed from above. From what little I have been able to glean the various tribes and ethnicities have been content to remain nominally part of one country since the time of the Durranis but they do not like being subjected to a corrupt predatory central government and an army and police force not of their ilk. They don't seem to want to be under the cruel nihlistic heel of the Taliban but like all civilians caught in a guerilla war--if they can't be left alone by both sides--they'll prefer the next best option and side with whichever can maintain some kind of order. "Restrepo"--style COP's on distant hilltops are of no use to them. If we helped them establish their own village-based militias and localized police force AND popularly-elected governors (NOT self-appointed warlords approved by Kabul) we might actually start getting somewhere after ten long years.

Posted by F at August 22, 2011 2:08 PM ET:

How many officers were in that patrol? If it was being led by the Lt, he would have been better employed commanding the patrol, rather than getting sucked into applying first aid - especially since someone with a first aid bag was right there anyway. It's always emotional when one of your troops is bleeding close to you, but the officer's job is to lead the patrol in executing its contact drills, coordinating supporting fires/air, and pursuing the enemy. That's what I expected of my Lt's when I was patrolling through those villages.

Posted by S at August 23, 2011 1:17 PM ET:

F:

If you read the article that accompanied the slide show you'll have most of your questions answered and a couple that aren't, according to the new training, I might be able to help with.

1) There were 2 officers.
2) It's possible the Lt was getting casualty information on one soldier (to determine if a medivac was warranted, which it wasn't) and was the first person on the scene for another (first person there applies the tourniquet).
3) Having been in many villages in Afghanistan, and I can't say this one is the same, but to execute the "doctrinal" contact drill would have been insane since these are blind alleyways.
4) With that many soldiers injured and the others treating the wounded and the rest securing the CCP, since their ANA bailed, it's highly unlikely they would've been able to send even a fire team.
5) If you read the article, CAS was on station within in minutes. Did the LT have a FO (who's trained to talk to the CAS) working the problem to free him up for other things?
6) Call for fire? In many of these AOs calling for fire is impossible given their ROE. And given that the patrol didn't know where the grenades had come from what good would that have done?

Karlsson-Tuttle, Thanks for your service and those of your platoon mates. Speedy recovery your way.

Posted by Charu at August 24, 2011 2:38 PM ET:

I thank your sons (and daughters) for their service and for defending us from a repeat of 9-11. Stay safe and come back healthy.

This is a frustrating battle because we are not engaging the real enemy, Pakistan. Worse, we are sending them money to help them shoot and maim our soldiers. There is one way to ease the situation in Afghanistan, and this has been proven in Kashmir. When the Pakistanis turned their focus on Afghanistan, their proxy war against India in Kashmir eased into a dribble.

Create additional active fronts within Pakistan, say in Baluchistan, and the ISI will be forced to pull back on its support for the Taliban. Even China, with its eye on the Baluchi sea port, will be less inclined to arm the Taliban and turn its resources towards saving its ally. The Iranians, too, fear an independent Baluchistan that could comprise of a part of their territory.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/24/world/asia/24baluch.html?_r=1&ref=asia

Posted by Ishmael Smith at August 24, 2011 5:45 PM ET:

JRP, for goodness' sake... I find this blog fascinating and well-written but rarely comment; however I have to pull you up on your post as it somehow caught (or violently poked at) my eye. This 'War on Terror' is by no stretch of the imagination an 'existential' war for America; that is a completely absurd assertion. Zawahiri is irrelevant and marginal, and al-Qaeda 'Central' is effectively spent as an international force and unable to carry out operations globally.

Al-Qaeda only remains a live threat in the form of an ideology; a flag, if you will, that disparate militants the world over can raise for propaganda and psychological impact, for instant recognition of what they are about. As such, they are by no means tied to AfPak. The most active AQ subsidiaries or franchises, those in Yemen and the Maghreb, are operationally not reliant on AfPak or AQ Central.

Boris, you are absolutely right. A Panjshiri in deep Pashtu country is as much of a foreigner as an American is. The parochialism and xenophobia of rural Pashtun are legendary.

It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend the feeling - ranging from casual, unconscious, nearly jokey racism, to an amazing depth of sheer hatred - that often informs the relationship between Pashtuns and various Farsiwans, for example.

Posted by Joan at August 25, 2011 6:28 PM ET:

Chris Scrupps is my awesome nephew. Thank you for showing us what he and fellow soldiers are going through in Afghanistan. Our family is living for the moment we know he and his unit return to U.S. soil.

Posted by thiet ke noi that at August 26, 2011 2:34 AM ET:

This is a frustrating battle!
I pray every day that, they are victorious over the enemy and come home safe and sound