Apaches attack Taliban in Helmand

Sunday Telegraph:

Caught in the middle of the Helmand river, the fleeing Taliban were paddling their boat back to shore for dear life.

Smoke from the ambush they had just sprung on American special forces still hung in the air, but their attention was fixed on the two helicopter gunships that had appeared above them as their leader, the tallest man in the group, struggled to pull what appeared to be a burqa over his head.

As the boat reached the shore, Captain Larry Staley tilted the nose of the lead Apache gunship downwards into a dive. One of the men turned to face the helicopter and sank to his knees. Capt Staley's gunner pressed the trigger and the man disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust.

By the time the gunships had finished, 21 minutes later, military officials say 14 Taliban were confirmed dead, including one of their key commanders in Helmand.

The mission is typical of a new, aggressive, approach adopted by American forces in southern Afghanistan and particularly in Helmand, where British troops last year bore the brunt of some of the heaviest fighting since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

American commanders believe that the uncompromising use of airpower in recent weeks has been a key factor in preventing the Taliban from launching their expected full-scale spring offensive against coalition forces and forcing them to rethink their tactics.

Aircrews say they have been told to show no mercy, but to press home their advantage until all their targets have been destroyed. The Apache attack was one of five in three days in -Helmand, where British troops operate alongside a much smaller contingent of American infantry and special forces.

Capt Staley, the commander of the Apache unit based at Kandahar airfield, described how his helicopters had arrived just after an ambush by Taliban fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, on a detachment of American special forces and an infantry unit. In the second Apache, 1st Lt Jack Denton, 26, was in radio contact with the special forces unit, Scorpion 36, on the ground.

The soldiers said they had information that the Taliban were escaping across the river. "Look out for any boats," they said. He spotted a small aluminium fishing boat pushing out from the eastern shore of the 200-yard-wide river. In it were six or seven people. When they caught sight of the Apaches, they started to paddle back towards shore.


Capt Staley's helicopter hit them with its rockets while Lt Denton, the gunner in the other helicopter, opened up with his 30mm cannon. Three or four of the Taliban died where they stood and the rest made a dash for the trees. "They were trying to get to their bunkers," Capt Staley said. "We started a diving run and destroyed four of the six people we could see, including the Taliban commander."


As the Apaches came in for another run, Capt Staley said, he saw the muzzle flashes of automatic weapons among the trees. A rocket-propelled grenade screamed towards his helicopter, but it passed by harmlessly.

The Apaches made eight attacking runs and, by the end, the bodies of 14 Taliban littered the shore. Another two were spotted floating down the river. Any survivors did not hang about. "They usually extricate their dead but this time they left them there," Capt Staley said.

There is much more including a description of an attack on 12 Taliban riding motorcycles carrying machine guns. The Brit press seems squeamish about taking out the bad guys from choppers, but they should remember that this is an enemy that gives no quarter and takes no prisoners that it odes not kill.

I have noted this before, but I continue to be amazed at how inept the Taliban forces are when it comes to picking an ambush site and executing it. In almost every case it is the Taliban forces that are destroyed in the engagement.


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