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Marine Patrol Surprises, Defeats About 250 Taliban

Over at DefenseTech.org, Christian has posted a tremendous story about a Marine unit in Afghanistan battling Taliban leaders. While we focus on acquisition here at the Buzz, this includes some pretty good examples of how weapons actually are being used, and being used to good effect. Note especially the effective combination of accurate rifle fire and air power. Of course, the story also reminds how crucial are excellent training and experience. Colin

It started out just like any other patrol in a war-ravaged Afghan province.

Hardened by months of combat, sneak attacks and roadside ambushes, the Marines were ready for a fight. Rolling through the hardscrabble village of Shewan in Afghanistan's Farah province on August 8, the leathernecks of the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment knew enemy eyes were upon them.

It was a village they'd had on their radar for months. Taliban insurgents and their al Qaeda helpers were constantly harassing the Marines charged with holding back the anti-coalition flood in their 37,000 square mile operational area -- and insurgents were using Shewan as an occasional base for attacks.

They knew the rows of mud compounds held bad guys. But on the tail end of the 10-mile patrol, they never could have expected the hornets nest they were destined to stir up.

"I was prepared for contact but I wasn't expecting any," a Marine unit leader told Military.com. "It turned out later that there was a big meeting of enemy leaders in the town that we had interrupted, and we inadvertently trapped them inside of their compound."

It all started with a rocket propelled grenade shot at around 1:00 pm, and it ended nearly eight hours later with more than 50 enemy killed and only one injured Marine. For months, 2/7 had absorbed ambush after ambush from their hit-and-run opponents, suffering one of the highest casualty rates of any Marine unit deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The unit would be a symbol of the festering conflict in Afghanistan, where few NATO allies are willing to pitch in when the fight turns nasty and the full-force of American might distracted by the high-profile conflict in Iraq.

But on August 8, in what would be known as "the battle of Shewan," it was payback time.

In an exclusive email exchange with Military.com, the platoon commander who led the Marines on that ill-fated patrol described the pitched battle in vivid detail. His Marines preferred that their story be recounted anonymously, so Marine officials declined several requests to name the specific platoon and company involved in the hours-long battle.

What the story shows is a typically aggressive response to an enemy that for once decided to emerge from the shadows. And it also serves as an illuminating look at how, no matter the adversity and casualty count, U.S. forces continue to fight with the will and determination to win, no matter the odds.

"We didn't win the fight because of our superior firepower. We were severely outnumbered, and outgunned," the platoon commander told Military.com. "From that first counter ambush assault we gained the momentum and maintained it until the enemy finally fled from the battlefield eight hours later."

Less than two hours into the patrol one of the Marine Humvees took fire from an enemy RPG team about 150 yards away. The grenade sailed harmlessly by, but the platoon sergeant swung his rifle, fired and killed the shooter while another Marine dropped a second man, the platoon commander said. The unit continued to receive sporadic small arms fire for the next hour, but pressed on with their patrol.

Then all hell broke loose.

About 10 insurgents ambushed the Marines' vehicles from an irrigation ditch and more fired on the patrol from a nearby trench line. Though a group of Marines tried to push through the enemy position, they were rebuffed by heavy fire and another Humvee was rocked by a volley of RPG rounds.

As the Humvee burned with its vehicle commander still inside, the Marines pounded the insurgent positions with M249 fire while AK bullets ricocheted off their vehicles. The platoon commander rushed to the downed vehicle to pull the stricken Marine to safety.

"All of a sudden we took an intense amount of machine gun fire from the tree line and at this point numerous machine guns opened up on my vehicle and the dismounted crew trapped in the kill zone," the platoon commander wrote. "This began 20 minutes of intense fighting as the platoon battled to recover the Marines from the kill zone."

All this was too much for one of the platoon's designated marksmen, who crawled to the top of a berm -- exposing himself to enemy fire -- and began to plink off the insurgent gunners firing at the burning Humvee.

"The enemy fired over 40 RPGs from the tree line but were unable to effectively engage the Marines trapped in the kill zone because of the high amount of accurate fire being directed at them," the platoon commander said. "The enemy was reinforcing the tree line and replacing fighters as quickly as we were killing them."

So the designated marksman kept his cool and continued to fire.

"The designated marksman merely adjusted [his sights] and sighted in on targets as they revealed their positions by engaging him," the platoon commander added. "He rapidly acquired and prosecuted these targets again and again, firing his rifle with exceptional accuracy ... until all of the Marines were recovered from the kill zone."

In all, the designated marksmen fired 20 shots, racking up 20 dead fighters.

Finally the Marines were able to roll in an MRAP vehicle to recover the wounded Marines, and the platoon pulled back out of the enemy's range to "redistribute ammunition and [come] up with a quick game plan," the platoon commander said.

The fighters never expected the Marines to return and were surprised to see leathernecks swarming through their trenches and targeting two strongholds with close air support.

"We took another 60 or so RPGs, some rockets and mortars ... but as we attempted to assault we started taking more fire from another compound," the platoon commander wrote. "The enemy had established a defense with mutually supporting positions."

Unable to continue the assault because of the intensity of fire, and with enemy trucks pulling into the compounds and disgorging insurgent fighters, two Marines crawled through a hail of machine gun fire to get more precise coordinates for an aerial bombing run. From only 75 meters away -- well within "danger close" restrictions -- the two Marines called in air strikes until the enemy eventually withdrew from the area.

In all, what started as an ambush by 30 insurgent fighters swelled to a full-fledged assault by an estimated 250 enemy militants. The 30 or so Marines of 2/7's platoon killed more than 50 insurgents in the eight-hour battle, the Corps says.

"It turned out later that there was a big meeting of enemy leaders in the town that we had interrupted and we inadvertently trapped them inside of their compound," the platoon commander wrote. "They must have thought that if they ambushed us we would cut and run. This was not the case."

-- by Christian Lowe

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