May 25, 2002


Bravery and Breakdowns in a Ridgetop Battle : 7 Americans Died in Rescue Effort That Revealed Mistakes and Determination (Bradley Graham, May 24, 2002, Washington Post)
What became a 17-hour ordeal atop a frigid, desolate and enemy-ridden mountain ridge cost seven American lives, more combat deaths than any U.S. unit had suffered in a single day since 1993, when 18 Rangers and Special Operations soldiers died in battle in Mogadishu, Somalia. How the operation was conducted revealed serious shortcomings in U.S. military coordination and communication in Afghanistan. How it unfolded highlighted the extraordinary commitment of American soldiers not to leave fallen comrades behind: The entire episode spiraled out of an attempt to rescue a single SEAL, who had fallen out of the initial helicopter and was quickly shot by the enemy.

The firefight at Takur Ghar mountain came on the third day of Operation Anaconda, a three-week-long U.S. sweep against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Shahikot valley in eastern Afghanistan. The Mogadishu battle nine years ago precipitated the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Somalia. This one, Pentagon officials credit with reinforcing the Bush administration's commitment to pursue the war even in the face of U.S. military casualties. Efforts are underway to award some of the military's highest decorations for valor to those who fought on the mountain.

Even so, the circumstances that led to the firefight on the ridge have been subjected to extensive review in the Special Operations Command,which has responsibility for some of the elite U.S. military forces, including the Navy SEALs. Special Operations commanders ran the star-crossed rescue effort.

Close examination of the effort indicates that U.S. intelligence sources failed to detect enemy fighters on the ridge, leaving commanders to assume it was safe. Even after learning otherwise, U.S. military officials dispatched the SEALs back to the ridge where they had first come under fire, rushing them headlong into another ambush. Self and his Rangers then ended up going to the same spot unaware, because of communications equipment glitches, that the SEALs had retreated from the ridgetop.

As Tracy Wilson points out, here's your Black Hawk Down of the Afghan War. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 25, 2002 10:42 AM
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