|Operation Anaconda: An Overview of the Battle|
Operation Anaconda: An Overview of the Battle
Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense. DoD News Briefing: Soldiers in Afghanistan, Thursday, March 7, 2002 - 10 a.m. EST. Live interview with U.S. Army soldiers who participated in Operation Anaconda in eastern Afghanistan. Participants: Bryan G. Whitman, Deputy Director of Press Operations; Army Major Hilferty; Marine Captain O'Connor; Army Captain David Mayo, support platoon leader, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, 101 Airborne Division (Air Assault); Army First Lieutenant Joe Claburn, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault); Army Sergeant Major Frank Grippe, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division; Sergeant First Class Robert Healy, battalion operations sergeant, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division.
Hilferty: I'm going to start out, I've got another person added to the list. It is Sergeant Major Frank Grippe, 10th Mountain Division, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment. He's the command sergeant major for that battalion. He was in the fierce firefight the first day in the southern part of the sector, was wounded, and is back here with us as the great soldiers, a couple of them, will be here in a minute.
I'd like to start out with Sergeant Major Frank Grippe. Here he is.
Q: Thank you, Sergeant Major. Now if you could just describe to us, for the American public, try to give them a graphic description of what that battle was like, what you were thinking as this was happening, describe the battle as best you can and just give us a very good image of that if you would.
Grippe: Can I have your name, please?
Q: Thelma Lebrecht with Associated Press Broadcast.
Grippe: Great. So you'd like to know about the battle.
Basically the 187 Infantry was involved in combat operations in the [Shalinkot] Valley starting last Saturday at first light, which would be zero six o'clock in the morning local Afghan time.
The initial mission was to conduct blocking positions in the southern portion of the Shalinkot Valley south of the village of Marzak. I also had my scout sniper teams directly east of the village of Marzak, watching two small canyons that ran out of the village. I had an element which was a platoon sized element just to the north of Marzak on a larger canyon running out of the Shalinkot Valley, all running east of course.
In the south our two positions were estimated by the intel people to possibly hold the most terrorist exfiltrators. We had two blocking positions, one in a canyon that runs from the southeast of the valley and one that runs directly south.
The actual valley that we're engaging the enemy in, the base of the valley is approximately 8,500 feet. It's totally surrounded by mountain peaks that rise up to 11,000 feet. The terrain itself is very rugged, a lot of spurs and ridges running off the peaks. Of course, there's not much vegetation. Up along the side of the hills there're small juniper trees and so forth.
On the valley floor the day of the fight, or should I say at the beginning of operations, there were small patches of snow and starting about 100 feet above the valley floor was the actual snow line. So that should give you a good image of the battlefield and so forth.
Q: Sergeant Major, first if you could just clarify how many people you were talking about, and also on the actual battle itself, if you could describe to the American people what that battle was like, the fierce firefight, what was going through your mind, just some personal recollections and thoughts about it all and descriptions.
Grippe: Okay. I'm probably getting into a little too much detail for you in setting the stage for the actual battlefield itself and the terrain and so forth.
Basically, bottom line up front, was we came in, 125 personnel and three CH-47 aircraft. We sent one aircraft to the northern blocking position which had a platoon-sized element and my scout snipers which I had actually set up as hunter/killer teams. In the south I brought in 82 people on the two CH-47s, two separate landing zones, separated by about 400 meters distance.
As I explained, our mission was to set up blocking positions in support of our Afghan allies as they swept through the area. The intent was that the Afghans, after we set our blocking position, would sweep through the villages and dislodge any al Qaeda in the villages.
Basically what happened was the picture intel painted was just a little bit different than the actual events happening on the ground by numbers of al Qaeda and the type of positions they had set up and so forth. Basically my element to the south landed right at the base of an al Qaeda stronghold.
I would say just moments after the helicopters had dropped us off we started taking sporadic fire, and at that time we returned fire and we moved under some cover. Luckily there was a small ridge line that separated the landing zone from where we were taking fire from the al Qaeda forces. And basically my infantry reacted as the best trained infantry in the world as they are, returned fire and maneuvered to the small ridgeline, got behind it. Luckily there's a small depression behind the actual ridge itself. I had some other units that moved onto some small ridges to our south and returned fire.
And after about the first ten minutes of combat, I guess the al Qaeda came out of their caves and their well-fortified positions and we experienced a heavy volume of fire from the actual mountains above us. As the day progressed, of course, or should I say ten minutes into the fight we started receiving mortar fire, rocket-propelled grenades as per the Soviet RPG fire, heavy machine gun fire, light machine gun fire, small arms fire, all from the hills above us.
So if you can picture that, we're out in the open. Even when we're behind this ridge line there's still mountain peaks to the north and to the south of us and the peak lay to our front where we were receiving heavy volumes of fire.
Of course we returned fire. We did kill al Qaeda elements with our small arms. We set up our mortar, returned fire with our mortar. The al Qaeda, because they've been there for so many years, have all the low ground in the valley already zeroed in with their mortars so it didn't take long for them to bracket in on our mortar and we sustained our first injuries.
As the day progressed we called in close air support, probably within the first 30 minutes or so, at the start of the firefight. That quieted things down. We finally got some Apache aircraft to help us out. And basically from zero six o'clock in the morning until I would say eight o'clock in the evening is when we got our casualties out. For the most part our more serious casualties. Some of us, of course, stayed there on the battlefield.
At midnight there were about, we were actually extracted out of the battle.
So basically we landed at the base of an enemy strong point and we didn't have the combat power with us at the time to actually assault onto those facilities and basically, because of the valley floor we were on, the canyon floor actually where we were at, we didn't have the terrain that we could actually facilitate any type of movement to take down the al Qaeda defenses.
Do you have any questions?
Q: Sergeant Major, could you tell us your home town, perhaps, and your age? Just a couple of details there.
Also we were told, is it correct you were injured? Could you describe what happened and how you were evacuated? Were you still in --
Grippe: Basically about 3:00 o'clock in the afternoon during one of the numerous mortar barrages during the day and into the evening I received a shrapnel wound in the back of my thigh about the size of a quarter or so. I got eight to ten pieces of shrapnel up inside my thigh that I guess you could say I'll be setting off airport detectors, metal detectors for the rest of my life.
But I stayed on until I got extracted with the main element. I didn't leave with the wounded. And I didn't extract myself out of Afghanistan either, like most of the doctors wanted me to do. I'm down here. My injury's okay, I can walk and so forth. I just have to get it healed up enough, scabbed over enough so I can get up in the mountains with my men.
Basically what you need to let the American people know is our infantry fought very well that day. We went from actually a mission to where we were going to sit in blocking positions to I guess you could say we turned this into reconnaissance in force and let our highers know there is definitely al Qaeda in the area and lots of them and heavily armed.
My positions to the north, they were in a more -- of course you're in a valley, you're surrounded by mountains, but they had more terrain to actually maneuver on the enemy. Both of my scout sniper teams made contact with al Qaeda forces. My snipers, and the actual scout teams with them, did a tremendous job and killed and eliminated numerous al Qaeda elements and kept a lot of al Qaeda elements tied down.
My northern block position, of course they actually attacked and secured a ridge, a small ridge overlooking the villages north of Marzak and engaged elements, al Qaeda elements in those villages. Again, killing numerous al Qaeda with direct fire weapons, machine guns and so forth.
Basically with the distances of our gun flights, the 7.62 sniper rifles and our machine guns did a really good job at actually suppressing and of course killing al Qaeda members.
Down in our area it was the same thing. My riflemen were firing the 5.56 M4 and saw automatic weapons, I actually witnessed some of my guys taking out al Qaeda targets out to ranges of 500 meters. So they really did a good job. They stayed cool under fire.
Even in the south where we were, where we took a tremendous amount of fire for practically 18 straight hours before we extracted -- during the evening we had an AC-130 gunship come overhead and that provided a tremendous amount of aerial fire support base for us. And basically I'll tell you, we didn't run from the fight. It wasn't a Mogadishu. It wasn't as though we were pinned down. We just kept the enemy fixed all day and kept the CAS [close air support] coming, and any time we could actually visibly see a target we'd eliminate that al Qaeda element.
But because of the actual terrain where we were at that would not facilitate an assault onto this mountain strongpoint, our highers extracted us by helicopter and under cover by AC-130 and aerial CAS, that evening so we could come back here, get the rest of our casualties out and refit, then immediately get back in the fight. That's where my boys are right now.
Again, I could talk here all night about personal braveries. You could write a book on the personal braveries that went on in the south that day and the information I'm getting from my northern positions now, they had some spectacular gunfights up there and did an awesome job in eliminating al Qaeda members.
Q: Sir, Martha Radich from ABC News.
Again, could we just ask you your home town and --
Grippe: Hello, Martha.
Q: Hi, how are you? Hometown and age please?
Grippe: Basically, for security reasons I'd rather not give my home town.
Q: No problem.
Grippe: I'm a member of the 10th Mountain Division. I'm based at [4 Germany ARC]. I guess you could say I grew up in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York.
Q: Close enough. Thank you for that.
Grippe: I'm 39 years old.
Q: Okay, now we've got all those details. Thanks for that.
Could you give us an idea of when you were extracted what resistance was left? And also, an idea about were you surprised by the resistance? I mean you've sort of alluded to that, that there were more people there than you thought, or there were positions they had taken that you didn't think they had taken before that. But just sort of when you were extracted, how much work there was left to do.
Also, just one thing and I'll ask these couple of questions because of this delay.
You talked about the Afghans going into the villages to dislodge al Qaeda elements. How do you know who the al Qaeda are? Is that who you think you're fighting? Is that only who you're fighting there? A lot of questions, sorry.
Grippe: Yes, I understand the question, ma'am.
As per the Afghan forces, as I explained earlier, the Afghan forces were part of the operation to clear the villages of al Qaeda forces. The Afghan forces on the first day received heavy automatic weapons fire and mortar fire and they could not make it through the other canyons into the valley. So there Afghan forces never arrived. This was a total American force in the Shalinkot Valley that day. You had a 10th Mountain element in the south and a 101st element in the north.
Now as per se how do we know what's al Qaeda, how do we know what's Afghan villagers? That was one of our concerns and we had specialists with us who speak the language and so forth to help us talk to the Afghan people and so forth, to point different elements out. But that did not come into play in this operation. Basically there were no civilians at all in any of the villages. No civilians at all. It's all al Qaeda soldiers. I don't want to call them soldiers, they're terrorists. They're not soldiers. They're just terrorists. But basically they were wearing black or blue uniforms and there was no problem identifying who was enemy that day, ma'am.
Any more questions concerning --
Q: Sergeant Major, Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun.
A couple of questions.
Grippe: Hi, Tom.
Q: How are you?
First of all you mentioned that initially you didn't have the combat power, I think that's what you said, to go after some of the al Qaeda positions. Besides the mortars, do you see anything more that would be necessary in a fight from your side? There's been talk among some Army officers about maybe getting some artillery up there or some armor, first of all.
Secondly, you talked about you guys being involved in the blocking positions. That seems to have slipped now, where the Afghan forces are doing the blocking and the American forces are actually leading the operation.
Grippe: Roger. The Afghan forces of course are members of our coalition. Most of the Afghan people, as you well know, do not want the al Qaeda here in their country. So yes, there are Afghans involved. And yes, at the moment they are in, some Afghans are on the offense, some Afghans are in blocking positions, and other areas around the valley.
Basically because of the way the battle developed, it's become quite the American fight at the moment because we are engaged close up with the al Qaeda.
Now as per se my element in the south because of the terrain which will not facilitate attack on the strong point, we exfiltrated out. We were extracted by helicopter under the cover of aerial close air support and the gunship.
But the whole American force did not extract out of the area.
Q: I came in late. He was describing the first day of the attack?
Whitman: He was describing whatever you asked him questions for.
Q: Was that what he was talking about?
Q: Yes. He was injured. He got shrapnel --
Q: I didn't actually hear the description.
Q: He said he got shrapnel in his thigh and --
Q: Okay. I was here for that.
Q: Bryan, what's the difference, it's already 10:20 now. Are the other two guys going to come on? Are we still doing the 11:00 o'clock in here?
Whitman: We're doing the 11 o'clock in here, and I suspect that we'll still have the other two individuals, but the sergeant major --
Whitman: My understanding is it's one of the other --
Q: -- about 125 people in the total command or was that just the part that was down in the valley and the snipers --
Whitman: A battalion is much larger than 125. So that (inaudible). You can ask for clarification.
Whitman: We have you back here in the Pentagon. I think you got cut off just a little bit into that answer.
Hilferty: Yes, we did.
Whitman: If you can go ahead and pick up with your answer there. You were talking about additional forces and artillery from Tom Bowman of the Baltimore Sun.
Grippe: Am I still speaking to Tom or is this the facilitator?
Whitman: This is Bryan Whitman, but Tom is sitting right here.
Grippe: Okay. Tom, can you hear me?
Whitman: Yes, he can.
Grippe: Tom, basically I'm explaining my portion of the battle in the southern area. My other forces to the north of me and of course the 101st element was never extracted. They have stayed in contact with al Qaeda forces.
As per artillery, well yeah, it would be nice to have some artillery there. And as per tanks, well, as you well know, the Soviets fought here for ten years using armor forces and not wanting to get out of their vehicles. I think it's quite a surprise on all our enemies that my boys are up at 10,000 feet right now chasing them down. You can't bring a tank up those ridges and you can't bring armored vehicles up to those ridges. That's my view of the situation in the area.
The artillery gives you very responsive fires, but we had an outstanding air cap with aerial fast movers and bombers and of course the AC overhead to give us direct fire support from ahead.
Does that answer your question?
Q: I think it does. It's Martha Radich again.
Let me follow up with something I asked you before.
Grippe: Hi, Martha.
What you think is left of the resistance in the area where you were. And also let me add, have you been in combat before and where?
Grippe: Yes, I've been in a few gunfights over the years. I have past experience with the Army Rangers and most of my career, actually ten years with 2nd Ranger Battalion and did six years prior to that with paratrooper units. So I've been in some gunfights before, but there's really no need even to go into that.
Basically there's still al Qaeda left in the hills of course. They're living in caves. They have great fortified positions. But the fight right now is a light infantry fight. That's what the 10th Mountain and the 101st is all about. And the boys are up there now, and they're in the fight, they're doing great things. That's what it's going to take. It's going to take feet on the ground with some of our great aerial combat support and we'll do fine up there.
Basically I'm just disappointed now that I'm not there with my guys because I've got this hole in my leg, but as soon as that scabs over according to the doctors I can get back up there.
And basically, Martha, our facilitator here, Major Hilferty, we have a few other personnel who will have different views of the battle and he'd like to get those on. Okay, Martha?
Q: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Q: This is Mark Heller at the Watertown Daily Times.
Hilferty: Welcome again. I want to introduce Sergeant -- Hi, Mark. I'm going to introduce another guy from 187 Infantry. We have four people here. I've got Sergeant First Class Robert Healy. He's a battalion operations sergeant. He's an infantryman with 1st Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment of 10th Mountain Division Light Infantry out of Fort Drum, New York, as you well know, Mark, and he was in a mortar fight and he was wounded. So I'm going to give you to Sergeant First Class Robert Healy.
Healy: Hello, sir.
Q: Hi. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your injury, but also can you reflect a little bit on your training at Fort Drum and what has been useful to you, not just your physical training but also psychologically. How do you prepare yourself for the fact that you may be hurt today, for instance?
Healy: First of all the injuries I sustained was from a mortar round that hit about 15 feet behind us. I got some shrapnel in my leg, shoulder, and just a little bit behind the ear right there. But I'm up and walking around and ready to go back to battle.
As far as the training and what prepped us for this conflict here was, at Fort Drum we do some intense training out there from the team level on up to company and battalion level. Ongoing, nonstop. Have combined arms exercises which we're conducting right now as we speak. Putting it to the test here.
What really prepped us for this is just watching the September 11th attacks. We knew we were going to be called up and go into combat and rid the world of this evil here, basically. And all the boys are ready to do that. We're doing it right now and nobody has any regrets and we're all still motivated.
Q: Sergeant? This is Susan Schaeffer from the Associated Press.
Can you tell us what you consider your home state to be? If you don't want to mention your home town. Your age and the time you've been in the Army, and then I'll ask you a question about the event itself.
Healy: I'm originally from Michigan, that's my home state. It's where most of my family's still at. I'm 34 years old. What was the last question? I'm sorry.
Q: How long you've been in the service and your specialty.
Healy: This summer it will be 17 years.
Q: Can you describe for us what you saw in the events on Saturday? What it's like? If you were telling your mom at home, what was it like to face these al Qaeda people, to have them showering mortar fire down on you. It sounds like you were in the bottom of a hell hole.
Healy: We were. I probably wouldn't tell my mom the exact truth because I wouldn't want to worry her too much. But basically once we got off the aircraft, the aircraft lifted off, which was very fortunate that they were able to get out of there. We'd walked for about 30 seconds to a minute and then started getting a barrage of RPG rounds and small arms fire. The RPG rounds are going anywhere from five to ten feet in front of us.
The leaders took over, we all ducked behind kind of a small bowl area with cover and concealment on pretty much four sides probably three sides. And got in there, everybody got organized and we started returning fire.
From that point on whenever they would show themselves we'd take care of them. Just throughout the whole day it was RPG rounds and machine gun mortar rounds just landing everywhere.
During the initial barrage we didn't take any casualties. That came later as mortar rounds, they started out walking them into our AO.
Q: Sergeant did you worry you weren't going to get out of there alive?
Healy: I didn't worry about me getting out of there alive. I was worried about some of the casualties that we initially took earlier on in the day. I was concerned for them. It didn't really cross my mind. I knew we had a job to finish. I knew they weren't going to move ground troops on us up close because we would have took care of them with our weaponry and everything. We can reach out a little ways but not too high up in the rocks.
Q: This is Mark Heller again at the Watertown Times.
The terrain that you're in there is a lot different from what you would see at Fort Drum. I'm just wondering how you're adjusting to the terrain there, and did you do any training at the mountain training facility in Vermont?
Healy: The boys are adjusting real well here. The elevation from here at Bagram to where we went to for the operation is a little bit higher, well, it's a lot higher. We got in there, we adjusted really well. I was stationed in Alaska before so I'm familiar with the mountains as with a lot of people in our unit, so prior to this happening we did a lot of cross-training on mountaineering and made sure everybody was up to snuff on the operation.
Q: This is Craig Gordon from Newsday. How are you doing?
You said as soon as you stepped off the aircraft within 30 to 60 seconds you came under fire. Had you been told to expect that kind of immediate response? Were you surprised at the intensity of the fire and the weaponry they had available to them?
Healy: As with any LZ you're going into there's enemy around there. Yeah, we were told to expect it so we could plan for it and react to it. As far as the intensity, we didn't think it would be that high a volume of fire coming down on us initially. Luckily they weren't accurate shots at us and we were able to get everybody under cover.
Q: Sergeant Healy, this is Dave Martin with CBS.
Just to be clear, were you and Sergeant Major Grippe in the same battle? Or is this two separate battles we're hearing described?
Healy: It's the same battle. I'm sure probably what he's remembering and what I'm remembering are a couple of different things. We were at two different locations. We'd gotten dropped off probably a few hundred meters apart from each other. About 300 meters apart, different aircraft.
Q: But you were part of that southern blocking force?
Healy: Yes, sir.
Q: Sir, Martha Radich from ABC again.
You talked about the casualties suffered and the men you were worried about when you first arrived. Can you tell us how serious those were, how many people?
Healy: It was actually one of the mortar rounds that initially hit within the area where we were at. That hit about six guys on that one. Probably ten seconds later another round came and took out about another six personnel on that one.
Their injuries were just all shrapnel, different parts of the body. Our body armor saved the torso area so nobody sustained bad injuries around the chest or stomach there. Most of them were to the legs and arms.
Q: This is Staff Sergeant Shrees with Army News Service.
You have a lot of experience, 17 years in, and the sergeant major, he's also been in numerous gunfights. Could you explain how the younger soldiers who haven't had this experience before are staying focused and motivated?
Healy: A lot of them, like I said, since September 11th that motivated a lot of guys and it kept them straight on the line on what they had to do and what our mission was to go down there. And as the President said, we're going to get rid of the al Qaeda. With the experience of the older soldiers, they're making sure these young guys are staying focused. They've been great. We've had no problems with them. They've stayed motivated the whole time. The injured ones that even went back, I gather they're healing up, they're ready to get right back in the battle.
Q: Sergeant, just one question for you. There were a number obviously of incidents of bravery. Can you describe, again just looking for personal stories, personal reactions. Can you describe some incidents of bravery you saw? Give us a clearer picture of the scene? And also if there are any others nearby you who could also relate similar stories.
Healy: The thing that stands out in my head there most is during one of the mortar rounds that hit myself and Sergeant Major Grippe and about six or seven others, we had to move out of that area because usually where one round hits another one's going to follow soon after. So we pushed away. About five of the guys from Charlie Company, they stayed up on the ridge line and they were receiving sniper fire and machine gun fire, rounds were bouncing all around them, but they stayed there to cover our movement. None of them faltered. They knew they could get hit at any time but they stayed there and held their ground and made sure we got out of there.
Q: Hey, Top, this is Lisa Burgess from Stars and Stripes.
I have a question for you about resupply. You guys jump in there or walked off the chopper with a standard combat load. That's not going to last you for 18 hours. How did you get more ammo in there?
Healy: The initial load we went in with should have sustained us for more than that. We basically conserved fire after the initial assault. They weren't really poping their heads up too much so we would only shoot at what we could see. So we could have went another probably 24 hours without resupplying. We didn't get resupplied. We were good. We were running low but we were able to sustain ourselves for a little while.
Q: Dave Martin again.
Just to clarify that, you were running low on ammunition? And also it's been assumed, but I just want to make clear, that the plan here was not to pull you out after 18 hours. You were coming out because of the unexpected intensity of the opposition, is that correct?
Healy: Yes, that's correct.
Q: In both cases you were running low?
Healy: We were, well we started to get a lot of close air support so that helped us to conserve our ammunition and kept the enemy's head down where we could start conserving our ammo and just prepare for the night and the follow-on day. So we were sitting good. We were low but we were able to hold them off basically.
Whitman: Sergeant, this is Bryan Whitman. It looks like we're running a little low on questions here. Is there anybody else there though that you wanted to have say anything to us back here?
Hilferty: I've got Captain O'Connor. I'm going to hand you off to him and he'll introduce the next person.
O'Connor: Hello, Captain O'Connor, United States Marine Corps. I'm Major Hilferty's deputy.
Q: Martha Radich from ABC. Can you give us your first name, age, and your home state?
O'Connor: Actually I've got a Captain David Mayo who was a support platoon leader, 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, and he'd like to talk to you all. Stand by.
Mayo: This is Captain Mayo.
Q: Hi, Captain Mayo, Martha Radich from ABC. Could you give us, if you would not mind, your age and your home state?
Mayo: Yes, ma'am. I am 27 years old and I am from the State of Tennessee.
Q: If you would just tell us what battle you were involved in, whether you were injured and as much detail as you can about that.
Also, we've heard some reports from the field that al Qaeda members were actually taunting Americans, waving, shouting, throwing stones, running back into caves. If you have any information about that. But most importantly, what you yourself saw in the battle.
Mayo: Yes, ma'am.
We inserted in the early morning hours of D-Day. My task was two-fold. Number one, to provide security for the command and control element; and number two, to conduct reconnaissance of potential resupply landing zones for the operation. As we inserted we established the command and control element for those elements such as Sergeant First Class Healy just talked about.
We established that within the first 15 or 20 minutes. About 30 or 40 minutes later another element linked up with us and about that time we began to receive some sniper fire from the ridge line just to our east.
The members of the command and control element began to ID the al Qaeda personnel that were approaching our position and the element that we linked up with had some more technical equipment, a little nicer than we had, and were able to engage those enemy personnel from the ridge line that we were situated on. And in fact destroyed two to four members that were trying to infiltrate our position.
As far as the taunting, from my position at least I was not able to see any of that happen although as far as sticking their heads out of caves, firing, and then returning into those caves, that seems to be something that they do quite often and we're trying to combat that.
As I said, the sniper fire continued throughout the day. Again, we were co-located with this other element. We spotted targets for them as they continued to take out the al Qaeda members that were approaching our position.
Later in the day we began to receive indirect fire. They began to bracket mortar rounds onto our position. We resituated as soon as that began to happen and moved to a safer location.
Certainly from the front line infantrymen like Sergeant First Class Healy, they truly are the real heroes. The aviators that inserted us, although they were receiving fire the entire way, Apache gunships who were shot up quite a bit throughout the day still continued to do their mission in support of all the infantry units. So a lot of people to take your hat off too on that day.
Q: Captain May, I'm Jerry Gilmore with the American Forces Information Services Press Service. How are you? And thank you all for your --
Mayo: Good sir, how are you doing?
Q: Fine. Thank you all, too, for your service over there. We're very proud of you and stay safe. I know it's not easy.
Mayo: Thank you, sir.
Q: You're with the 101st, right sir?
Mayo: Yes, sir. That's correct.
Q: Was this basically, that day-long battle it evolved into a war of attrition? You all were just taking out the targets as they appeared pretty much? You weren't trying to assault the ridges, were you trying to move up into the mountains and kick them out of the caves? Or --
Mayo: I want to certainly stay in my lane here. Like I said, I was part of the command and control element. And the elements like Sergeant First Class Healy was involved in, he saw more of the direct fire. I can tell you from my vantage, the command and control element contains an ALO, an Air Force representative that talks to the fighter aircraft, for instance the F-16s, B-1s, B-52s, etc. And from our position he was able to observe and call in the close air support in support of the infantry, like Sergeant First Class Healy's unit. So from my position we were able to observe the effects of the ordnance that those aircraft dropped.
Q: How were the effects?
Mayo: Unbelievable effects. It was amazing the amount of assets that we received that day, throughout the day. We got support from B-52s, F-16s, FA-18s, AC-130s, Apache gunships, AH-64 Apache helicopters, so it was a pretty big spectacle.
It was very critical that those fires be placed in the correct positions because there were quite a few friendlies on the battlefield. Because of that, we had to be extremely careful. I think our ALO did a super job in doing that.
Q: This is a follow-up question, hopefully for Sergeant First Class Healy or maybe the sergeant major if they can still communicate with us.
Without in the least saying anything negative about the bravery of your infantry guys, is it fair to say that the majority of the people, the al Qaeda who were killed were killed by your CAP?
Mayo: Ma'am, actually they are not here. I think they had to move to some other type of operation. But we're going to try to find them, ma'am, and if they're available certainly they can probably answer those questions.
Q: Is there anybody there who saw the fight who can comment on that?
Mayo: Ma'am, if you can repeat your question I can give you my perspective of it. Again, I want to stay in my lane. If you can ask the question though I'll try to give you my best answer.
Q: Okay. Sergeant First Class Healy was saying they were conserving ammo, that they were basically only firing back when they saw people popping up, which doesn't, from what other people have described, wasn't happening all that frequently. But at the same time the sergeant major said that there were lots of al Qaeda who were killed.
My question is, is it fair to say that most of the people who were killed in this battle were killed by the air support as opposed to the infantry?
Mayo: Ma'am, I'm certainly not an expert on that. I'd probably defer to someone else on that. I am sure that there were quite a few al Qaeda members killed by direct fire, although the CAS played a major role in it as well. Like I said before, the amount of support we received from the aircraft was pretty impressive. So I would say they played a major role in providing security for those elements that were pinned down throughout the day. So they did a super job doing that.
Q: Captain Mayo, this is Thelma Lebrecht with AP Broadcast. I have just one quick clarification question and then I have another broader question.
A clarification. Did you say that you were injured in this? And how were you? Then I have anther broader question.
Mayo: No, ma'am. I was not personally injured in this particular day.
Q: Thank you, captain. The comments have been terrific. Is there anyone else there that wanted to speak? We're just probably going to be wrapping it up pretty soon. But is there anyone else nearby that had wanted to give their perspective?
Mayo: Yes, ma'am. First Lieutenant Joe Claburn is here also, ma'am. He is from HHC, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment. Again, ma'am, that's also from the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault.
Q: Lieutenant Claburn, if you wouldn't mind, could you tell us what your age is, how long you've been in the service and your home state?
Claburn: Good morning, this is Lieutenant Claburn.
Q: Yes, Lieutenant Claburn, if you could spell your last name for us and give us your age and how long you've been in the service and your home state if you could, please.
Claburn: Certainly. I'm 25 years old. My last name is spelled C-L-A-B-U-R-N. I'm a resident of Alabama.
Q: Thank you very much, lieutenant, if you could just give us a very general picture of the battle scene as you saw it, give us your personal perspective. Were you injured? And just give us a feel for the American public of what it was like to be there.
Claburn: Certainly. My job here in the battalion is the S-3 Air. Here in the 101st Airborne Division I oversee all of the air assaults that we do and conduct. I act as a liaison for the battalion with the aviation units.
Currently the units have been engaging in combat on the front lines. My overall job here recently has been to resupply them with food, water, ammunition.
I have personally escorted several of those resupply missions. Most of them have been during the day time.
The scene of the country is very nice. I have been very impressed with the overall beauty of the country, with the high mountains and the terrain.
The majority of, I guess something I found neat was as I go through the country we observe a lot of the residents of the nearby villages coming out to look up at us as we fly by, a lot of them waving, lots of them running toward the aircraft, hands up in the air, almost as a cheering on. Children in the streets running toward the aircraft. It seems to be a very happy spirit, and hopefully rightfully so as we're here trying to take care of the business.
This morning I flew in to do a resupply drop of food and water and ammunition. As we came into the LZ we dropped off the supplies where then I had to drop off some pacs, some personnel. They were actually reporters. When we sat down on the ground after dropping our load I was in the seat between the pilot and the copilot to make sure that the equipment got into the right location. As we were dropping off the pacs and picking up the new ones who were also returning reporters, the aircraft was receiving fire from the mountainside.
As I looked out the front of the aircraft I could see rounds hitting approximately five to ten meters in front of the aircraft. Just a slight combustion of the rounds hitting the dirt sent at least myself and the pilot into a little bit of a disarray.
Once we got all the passengers on board, of course, we pulled up off of the LZ where we could see a lot of the American forces taking cover. They had been receiving fire in and out of that area quite often. As we were departing the LZ the tail gunner of the aircraft had spotted personnel up on the northern edge of the ridge and he engaged that target. I don't necessarily know if he successfully engaged and killed that personnel on the ridge, but I think he disrupted his day long enough to keep his head down and allow us the opportunity to escape the LZ without any harm to American personnel. But it was quite an interesting adventure this morning.
Q: Lieutenant Claburn, this is Bryan Whitman. Unfortunately we're going to have to bring this to a close.
I'd just like to give you an opportunity, if there's any of you individuals that have been talking to us that wanted to say something in closing, now would be the time.
Claburn: Actually I'm the only one left here. I guess the closing remarks on my behalf is we really do appreciate the American support that we soldiers have gotten over here. As you know, the infantryman who lives in the mud, sleeps in the mud, and the weather here is very terrible, so every bit of support we get from the American people really does mean a lot. We've received countless valentine's cards. My unit personally has missed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, tons of birthdays, anniversaries, and the support of the American people tremendously does a lot to help us out here.
The reminder of the reason why we're here and the business that we do, as serious as it is, and the risks that we take every single day, to know that people back in the United States really appreciate us and the work that we do means a lot to each and every single one of the soldiers over here that I serve with.
Whitman: Lieutenant, we'd like to thank you and your colleagues for taking the time this morning to speak to us all back here, and we wish you all the best of luck.
Claburn: Okay. I'm going to hand you over to Captain O'Connor. Thank you.