U.S. Troops Describe All-Day Shahi Khot Battle
By Gerry J. Gilmore
National Guard Bureau
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2002 The March 2 ground battle in the Shahi Khot Valley between U.S. infantry and Al Qaeda terrorists was "a close-up, American fight," a sergeant major wounded in the fight said today.
Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Grippe of the 10th Mountain Division told Pentagon reporters of dark-clothed Al Qaeda troops on snowy ridges and in mountainside caves firing down on U.S. troops shortly after they'd arrived at Shahi Khot, in eastern Afghanistan. He and other soldiers described their Operation Anaconda experiences via phone link from Bagram, Afghanistan.
Two helicopters flew Grippe and his troops into the southern part of the valley to block Al Qaeda forces early March 2, he noted. Other troops, including 101st Airborne Division soldiers, were flown in to block the north valley, he said, while allied Afghan troops were to sweep through local villages to rout any Al Qaeda forces.
However, Grippe noted, Al Qaeda troops had used heavy automatic weapons and mortar fire to immobilize the allied Afghan forces before they began their sweeping movements.
He said the Americans also came under intense small arms, mortar and rocket-propelled grenade fire from Al Qaeda troops dug in above. Later in the day, Grippe was wounded in the thigh by shrapnel from enemy mortar fire.
Within a minute after disembarking from the choppers, the American soldiers "started getting a barrage of RPG rounds," recalled Sgt. 1st Class Robert Healy, another 10th Mountain soldier who fought in the south valley with Grippe.
The U.S. soldiers took cover, got organized and started returning fire, Healy said. The battle, he noted, soon evolved into an 18-hour affair of attrition. Healy noted that American ground and air firepower proved very effective in killing Al Qaeda troops.
"From that point on, whenever they'd show themselves, we'd take care of them," Healy explained, adding that he and his troops continued to experience a barrage of mortar, RPG and small arms fire from enemy troops. Mortar shrapnel wounded Healy, too.
Al Qaeda mortar fire that day caused 12 U.S. casualties, Healy said. The Americans wore body armor that protects the torso, "so nobody sustained bad injuries around their chest or stomach," he noted. Most of wounds were to the legs and arms, he added.
The events of Sept. 11 "motivated a lot of guys," during the battle, Healy said, adding that injured soldiers want to return to the fight.
Grippe noted that he and his battle-weary soldiers were flown out of the area after fighting all day with a determined enemy.
"The Afghan forces never arrived. This was a total American force in the Shahi Khot Valley that day," Grippe said.
Capt. David Mayo, a 101st Airborne Division liaison officer, said he worked with an Air Force representative in locating Al Qaeda targets for U.S. F-16 fighters, B-52 bombers and helicopter gunships. U.S. close air support against Al Qaeda positions "was unbelievable," Mayo said. "It was amazing the amount of (air) assets we received that day."
Operation Anaconda continues and U.S. forces number around 1,000. They are joined by a like number of Afghan fighters and about 200 special operations troops from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, France and Norway. Army Maj. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck of the 10th Mountain commands.
The 10th Mountain Division's home is at Fort Drum, N.Y. The home of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) is Fort Campbell, Ky.