Mast Fall 2001
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From the Front Lines:

Saying goodbye

D-Day for Operation Anaconda

Entering the fray

Left in the dark

Weathering the combat

Realities of the job

Making hard choices

 

Other Features Stories:

We're Changing Things

A Degree of Difficulty

United by a Friend

From the Front Lines

Entering the fray

Martin SavageThe next morning, he learned that the unit his soldiers were scheduled to reinforce had been withdrawn from the fighting. One in three of the troops had been wounded.

"We immediately ran over there because we knew all of them. We had talked to them on camera and off camera." And they had news: The soldiers had been in the heaviest fighting yet and could provide the first combat information.

"They had done a great job, but they were clearly shaken. They hadn't anticipated the amount of resistance they had met."

Reality hit. Savidge realized that if the troops he was with had landed that night, there was a good chance they would have been hit hard as well. At that point, Savidge and McWhinnie were pulled from their unit, and the 10th Mountain was given a chance to rest because of the casualties it had suffered. Savidge was moved to another unit, which was made up of some 10th Mountain members, some from the 101st Airborne Division and some Canadian forces.

They departed about midnight, landing in the Shah-e-Kot valley about 1:30 a.m.

"This time the landing zone was completely quiet. It was a bitter cold night. There was a three-quarter moon in the sky, and we could see the contrails of all the fighter bomber planes that were flying over head, which was a reassuring sign."

The public affairs officer had gone in another helicopter and said he'd meet them. But the choppers were spread out by hundreds of yards in the pitch dark, and they lost track of each other.

"The sergeant in charge of his 45 men got off this helicopter and was doing a head count. He realizes he's got two extra men, and that's us. Using the "f" word quite frequently, he said, 'Who the heck are you guys?' We said, 'We're CNN.' He said, 'I can't stand the f---ing media. If you mess up my formation, I will essentially mess up you.' We thought oh, boy, this is a real greeting. He turned out to be a great guy, very competent, smart. He knew the dangers, which is why he had the immediate shock that two members of the media had stumbled off his helicopter."

The mission called for clearing mountains and caves. One cave, considered the target of the day, required a six-kilometer uphill hike.

"That was really extremely grueling. You've started at around 8,000 or 9,000 feet and made it all the way to 11,000, almost 12,000 feet. So the air was extremely thick, and we're staggering with the weight of our backpacks, trying to link up with the other soldiers. We had to make it to the mouth of the cave before daylight, otherwise our presence would be known. We had to go through an extremely narrow valley, about 100 yards across, with mountains on both sides. To my uneducated military point of view, it seemed to me we were dead ducks. We didn't make it. Sure enough, it started to get light and we heard the telltale popping noise of the mortars. We knew they would hit within 15 to 30 seconds. Fortunately they were not real close. They were falling behind us. Immediately afterward you could hear the fighter aircraft come screaming out of the sky and trying to pound wherever they thought the mortars were coming from."

Eventually, they located the target cave. The soldiers used shoulder-launched missiles to bring the roof down.

Around midday, they repositioned outside of a town thought to house the main body of al Qaeda and Taliban soldiers. It was eight kilometers away. Having already hiked six kilometers to the cave, they were on the brink of exhaustion. They set up camp just before dusk on a ridge line. It was getting dark, and they were ready to bed down. They could hear a heavy fighting on the other side of the mountain.

NEXT: Left in the dark

 

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