While 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 we saw what was clearly 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 parked the truck in 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. 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 Duranta, no vegetation and no cover. Once the Kiowa’s obtained good situational awareness they got permission to engage the ambush team, who were being pressed by Blue Compass convoy escorts and a few ANP, 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. These guys were not only stupid – they were screwed.
This was a more effective ambush than the ones which normally occur further west 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. When we had made our way into the kill zone most of the firing had died down as more and more armed men ran up into the hill above to drive off the villains.
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. 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 two ridge lines away but we had work to do and headed back to Jalalabad. There were at least 50 fuel tankers lining the road on the return trip. These attacks are really meaningless in the big scheme of things, the loss of fuel is sucked up by the contractor and not Uncle Sam. The American taxpayer can’t buy a break like that in most places.
The ambush squad who did this were clueless. They shoot up 6 trucks out of a convoy of around 80 and then found themselves flanked by armed guards and hunted by Army Kiowa helicopters. What did they think was going to happen – just walk off over 5 kilometers of open ground after closing the most important road in the east of Afghanistan? 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 the villains bad luck that two helicopters were hanging around when this went down but the pressure applied by aggressive maneuver from the convoy escort security element certainly helped them to ID the bad guys and obtain permission to smoke them. Too bad its not always this easy with the Taliban.