I was enjoying a morning cup of coffee and checking email up on the Baba Deck with a group of friends who are in from the States when we saw the signature of a tanker attack just up the road. That has never happened this close to Jalalabad before so we conducted a brief staff meeting which consisted of saying “let’s go” and headed up the road to see what was what.
The ANP had closed the Duranta Dam tunnel but recognizing us they waved us through and we continued through the tunnel at speed only to have the ANP on the other side of the tunnel wave us right on down the road and into the kill zone.
We saw a string of tracers stitch the road to our front and immediately pulled a hard left into dead space well short of the burning trucks and continued forward on foot. The firing was sporadic, just a few incoming rounds cracking well over our heads and we were not sure if it was aimed at us or spill over from the firefight we could hear to our right. The villains had a belt fed machinegun (probably a PKM) which fired a few bursts in our direction during the 5 or so minutes it took us to reach the kill zone. There was a section (two) of Army OH58D helicopters circling overhead very low as they worked out who was who on the ground.
There are no villages up in the hills above the Duranta Dam, no vegetation and no cover. Once the Kiowa’s obtained good situational awareness they obtain permission to engage the ambush team the bad guys were toast. They couldn’t go to ground, they couldn’t hide, they were in the open and forced to be on the move by pressure from a convoy escort team from Blue Compass and a few ANP who had followed them into the hills.
This was a more effective ambush then we normally see further west on the Jbad /Kabul highway. The terrain here forced the shooters to be much closer to the road than they are when they ambush from the heights of the Tangi Valley. There were three tankers hit and dumping JP 8 all over the road but not burning. Three more were hit and on fire in the northern portion of the kill zone.
Shortly after the photograph above was taken the OH58’s got a firing solution and let rip with rockets and gun pods. Kiowa pilots seem to like getting close and personal and these guys were not staying above some hard artificial “ceiling” dictated to them from on high but were on the deck, spitting venom like a good gunship should. I doubt the villains had much of a chance – reportedly four were killed.
The Kiowa’s ended this fight and the efforts on the ground turned to separating the leaking fuel tankers from the burning ones. This is an effort best watched from at least two ridge lines away and we had work to do so we headed back to Taj noting there were at least 50 fuel tankers lining the road just outside the kill zone. In the big scheme of things these attacks are meaningless on the physical level; the loss of fuel is sucked up by the contractor who only gets paid for what he delivers. The numbers of trucks being lost are like-wise a problem for Pakistani truck companies and not Uncle Sam. The American taxpayer can’t buy a break like that in most places.
Napoleon reportedly said; “moral power is to the physical as three parts out of four” “even in war pointed out in warfare the moral is to the physical as three is to one”. Attacks like the one we witnessed this morning are always victories on the moral level for the Taliban. That is the problem for our efforts in Afghanistan in a nut shell. The Taliban do not have to be tactically good or win on the physical level, they don’t have to be smart or survive half ass ambush attempts. They just need to attack and if they lose every battle in the end it won’t matter; they’ll still win.
The ambush squad who sortied out this morning to burn fuel trucks were clueless. They shoot up 6 trucks out of a convoy of around 80 and then found themselves flanked by armed guards, forced to move in open terrain where they were hunted down like rabid dogs by Kiowa helicopters. This also was a good demonstration of using PSC’s to perform tasks which are not cost effective for the military. It was our good luck and the villains bad luck that two helicopters were hanging around the area with full ammo stores when this went down. The pressure applied by aggressive maneuver from the convoy escort security element helped the Kiowa’s PID (positive ID) the bad guys and obtain permission to smoke them and it is rare to see that work out so smoothly. Too bad its not always this easy with the Taliban.