Tuesday, 20th October - Korengal Valley
I must confess that this wasn’t the first but it was definitely the most intense and the longest – all 20 minutes of it! Both firefights happened in the tiny village of Lanyal, which is across the valley from the outpost and as the crow flies, only about 2.5 km away.
The mission to the nearby village of Lanyal is nothing new as it is part of the patrol routine for the 2nd Platoon of Baker Company and since my arrival here in the Korengal, things has been awfully quiet. The soldiers here would often recount to me tales of frequent firefights and enemy shelling.
The platoon left the base in the morning and it was an arduous walk (more like a up and down climb really)! This was my third time here and the last time when we came here the platoon took some light fire. By the time we walked into the observation point my lungs were about to burst! We sat waiting while the ANA (Afghan National Army), with their US Marines mentors, swept up from a different position in hope of catching any enemy hiding. After about an hour with no contacts the platoon decided to pull out of the village. The LT (Lieutenant, and in this case, the platoon leader) and his element were in front of me and we had to walk past this short, open stretch of trail when the enemy opened fire! I took cover behind a tall wall along with two terps (Afghan interpreter) but my only thought was to reach the LT and get into position to take photos. Can’t do anything behind a tall wall, can I? Besides the terps said to me, “You run down to them and we will follow you.”
And so down the trail I ran! It was the longest 20 metres ever and I could hear the crack, crack, of bullets hitting all around me. I never realized I could run that FAST down a rocky trail. I finally made it to the main element and discovered that there isn’t really all that much cover there at all. I looked back and none of the terps had followed me! The only things racing through my head were 1) to avoid getting hit, 2) not get in the way of the soldiers or in front of their guns and 3) take photos! Bullets, spent cartridges and rifle grenades were flying all over and the machine guns were so damn loud that I had to stop a couple of times to cover my ears! By the way, I did have my earplugs on. Support fire came from 120mm mortars from the outpost and an air strike was called in. I pressed myself as close to the wall as possible while holding my camera up and pressing the shutter as fast as I could! Crack-boom! An air force jet just dropped a 500 lbs bomb on top of the enemy positions. The ensuing silence was punctured by radio calls, men checking the status of equipment, ammo and the excited chatters of soldiers pumped up on adrenaline. I was breathing so, so hard!
Finally we were able to pull out of Lanyal without any incident. It was later that the terps told me they saw bullets hitting some 5 feet (about 1.5m) from me as I was running down the trail. They decided it would be a bad decision to follow me and it was safer behind the wall after all! Thanks, guys!