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Paratroopers detain Taliban leaders, destroy enemy safe houses

By Spc. Mike Pryor

MIANASHIN, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Oct. 12, 2005)--Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division along with Afghan National Army troops began an operation in the Mianashin region north of Kandahar in early October with an airdrop of supplies that fell short from its mark.

Water bottles and boxes of food were strewn for hundreds of yards across the mountain and paratroopers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment spent the afternoon carrying boxes down from the ridgeline, but there were still several large loads that needed to be transported. With daylight rapidly disappearing, A Company seemed to have run out of options.

Luckily, that is when the “Donkey Man” showed up.

Spc. Daniel Boyle spotted the old man as he led a team of donkeys up a hill in the distance. Boyle realized the donkeys might be the solution to A Co’s transportation problem. He beckoned the man over and began to negotiate. They reached an agreement, and soon each donkey was loaded with a bundle of supplies and was ready to move out.

Staff Sgt. Matthew Sheppard mounted the lead donkey and with a gentle jab he spurred the animal forward.

“On a mission like that, you never know what situation you’re going to find yourself in. That’s why we just try to stay flexible and make the most out of whatever breaks we get,” said Shaw.

The five-day operation resulted in the detainment of three Taliban leaders and the destruction of two enemy safe houses, began with a pre-dawn air assault into the town of Lwar Kowndalan Oct. 1. Two Chinook helicopters with an Apache gunship for support delivered the paratroopers in a clearing just outside the village. They exited the helicpoters and as the dust settled, the paratroopers could see they had landed in a graveyard.

The paratroopers moved out quickly and encircled the town by squads. Their objective was to capture several high-ranking Taliban operatives known to live in the village. After they searched several houses, three Taliban members were captured.

Meanwhile, paratroopers were also on the lookout for a safe-house used by Taliban forces. After several hours, Capt. Michael Shaw, A Co. commander, decided to set up a patrol base from which to continue the search. He chose a high-walled, fortress-like compound. Ironically, soon after occupying the building, the paratroopers realized it was actually the safe-house they were looking for.

The next day, after loading the three detainees onto a Chinook for transport to a secure location, the company moved out on a punishing hike through the mountains to the town of Gardeneh.The village is situated on top of a hill at the foot of a cluster of immense boulders. A search of the homes failed to turn up any evidence of Taliban presence, but one old man told the paratroopers that approximately 50 Taliban fighters had recently moved through the area. Shaw had his men set up an observation point at the old man’s house in hopes that the enemy might pass by again that night.

As they waited for night, the paratroopers were almost entirely out of food and water. They paid the old man to butcher one of his goats and drank water from his well after purifying it with iodine tablets.

Later, when most of his men were in their sleeping bags or on guard, Shaw went to sit by the old man’s side to thank him for the hospitality. Knowing the Taliban would harm the old man if they knew he had helped U.S. forces, Shaw asked the man for a strange favor.

In the morning the company hiked several miles further out to search another compound, then circled back and made the journey all the way back to their base in Lwar Kowndalan to await re-supply.

From the roof of their compound, the paratroopers saw the C-130 fly over and crates of food and water attached to green parachutes came tumbling out of the plane’s hold. Sheppard’s squad was dispatched to retrieve the supplies. Hours later, he rode the donkey back into the compound leading the rest of his improvised convoy behind him.

The re-supply had also included humanitarian aid supplies for the local people. All afternoon and into the evening the villagers filed into the compound one by one to receive rice, beans, sugar, tools, radios, and other supplies. The paratroopers did their best to distribute the material according to need, but everyone seemed to be equally needy.

Operations continued the next day as the platoon discovered another abandoned safe-house and several caves that had been used as shelters or staging points for ambushes. Using mortar fire, M136 anti-tank missiles, and hand grenades, the paratroopers destroyed them.

A company was due to be exfiltrated by Chinook helicopters just after sunrise Oct. 5. But before they could leave, there was one last piece of unfinished business – the compound they had been living in. Rather than leave it intact for the Taliban to use, Shaw gave the order to destroy the building and the remaining supplies in it with claymore mines. Staff Sgt. Richard Eldridge emplaced the mines.

When everything was set, Eldridge crouched down just outside the gates of the compound and detonated the mines. There was a tremendous blast and then a cloud of smoke and dust came drifting out of the gates. Poking his head inside, Eldridge saw that the explosion had split the main building straight down the middle. The compound’s days as a safe haven for Taliban fighters were over.

The paratroopers moved out to the pickup zone. Soon they heard the incoming Chinooks, and less than 45 minutes later they were back at Kandahar Airfield, looking forward to a well-earned day of hot chow, hot showers, and sleep on comfortable mattresses. And no more donkeys.

(Editor’s note: Spc. Mike Pryor is with the 1/325th Public Affairs)

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