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Paratroopers out-shoot assassins

Army News Service

Release Date: 1/13/2004

By Staff Sgt. Jeff Troth

KHOWST, Afghanistan (Army News Soldiers, Jan. 13, 2004) -- Soldiers of Task Force 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment were victorious in their first armed contact in Afghanistan.

While on their way to conduct a village assessment, paratroopers from Fort Richardson, Alaska, shot and killed four individuals along the highway west of Khowst.

The Soldiers were heading west on the highway and passing some buildings when 2nd Lt. Douglas Peterson, a platoon leader, noticed Afghanis on the side of the road signaling. When the five-vehicle convoy came to a halt, the lieutenant noticed a car across from the wadi position. Outside the car were two men, one on the ground apparently hurt.

"My first thought was that it was an ambush, the old person-injured trick," Peterson said. "When you stop to assist, they open fire from the side of the road."

The rest of the convoy thought the same thing and quickly scanned the area for any possible threat. Four armed males were spotted lying on the north side of the road. The Afghanistan Militia Forces' soldier, who was with Company C for their mission, opened fire.

When the four men fired back, the "Geronimos" returned fire with devastating results. All four of the opposition soon lay motionless on the ground.

As the paratroopers moved in to secure the area, one of their attackers threw a hand grenade. As the task force members quickly got out of the blast radius, a well-placed shot ensured that the man was no longer a threat.

According to Staff Sgt. Christopher Clark, 3rd squad leader, his guys reacted to the situation just like they should have.

"They did everything right," Clark said. "If we could have rehearsed a contact situation like this, I would have wanted them to do it just like they did on the side of that highway."

"The reason they responded the way they did is because of the training that Staff Sgt. Clark has given them," Peterson said.

That training not only helped to keep the Geronimos unhurt in the attack, but it also helped save lives of Afghanis. What had looked like a possible ambush was actually an assassination.

Minutes prior to the convoy reaching the wadi, the four assailants had opened fire on the car that Peterson earlier noticed. Their bullets had ripped through the door and passed through the driver and his seat. The driver who died was the assistant of police security for the area.

The other man who was kneeling near the dead police officer when the convoy arrived worked for an Afghanistan government official. Peterson said that he had no "doubt that he would have died if we hadn't rolled up when we did."

The assassins just picked the wrong time and place to carry out their mission.

The Afghanis in the area said that they did not recognize the four attackers, but thought they might have come from one of the villages to the north of the assassination site.

To ensure that there was no other threat in the area, the task force sent elements of Companies B and C out the following day to saturate the area with U.S. presence. The companies started at opposite ends of the valley where the attackers might have come from and searched the villages for weapons of war and information on al Queda.

"The people in the villages were cooperative for the most part," said 2nd Lt. Huck Finn, 1st platoon leader, Co. C. "They told us that we were making their town safe."

The two days netted the task force several thousand rounds of ammo, hand grenades, pistols and an RPG. The information garnered from the two days was priceless.

"The information we got will help us to track down where the enemy is," said Capt. William Kilgore, task force intelligence officer. "It tells us a lot about what the enemy is thinking, planning and doing."

"On the way back to Salerno we got more waves and thumbs up than we normally do," said Clark.

"For 30 years these people have seen people being killed and nothing being done about it," said Peterson. "This time there was immediate justice for them."

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Jeff Troth is a staff writer for Task Force 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.)

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