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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 18:09 GMT
Soldiers survive 18-hour mountain battle
10th Mountain Division forces set out to battle
The US-led operation has met with heavy resistance
A group of American soldiers have been giving first-hand accounts of their ordeal when they were pinned down under intense and prolonged enemy fire in eastern Afghanistan.

The men, part of the US-led operation Anaconda to snuff out a pocket of al-Qaeda and Taleban resistance, had to be rescued after their mission went wrong.

Of a group of 80 men sent to secure a landing zone, 27 were wounded in the fighting, though nobody died.

We were running and all of a sudden it was blackness and you're on your ass. You don't know how you got there. I knew that we'd got hit and I felt this burning in my body...

US helicopters taking troops and ammunition to reinforce positions had to turn back after the lead aircraft was hit, soldiers said.

The men were finally brought out 18 hours later and returned to Bagram air base, north of Kabul.

Uneven battle

Things went wrong almost immediately for the group from the 10th Mountain Division when they were dropped into the combat zone on Saturday on the southern side of Shahi Kot near Gardez, where US-led forces are trying to wipe out one of the last pockets of resistance.
US helicopters in action
Eight Americans have been killed in the operation so far

Taleban and al-Qaeda fighters were holding easily defended positions on higher ground and bombarded the soldiers with mortar bombs and machine-gun fire.

"Two minutes after we got out, we started taking hits. There were RPG (rocket propelled grenade) hits all over the place", said platoon commander Sergeant Robert Healy.

The Americans took cover in a small valley and started returning fire after the initial barrage.

They noticed that when Taleban fighters heard approaching aircraft, they would rush back into their caves.

"After the bombing stopped, they just popped back up and started firing again," said James Rissler, one of three medics who were injured.

"They were smart", added another soldier.

Blur

Map

Other tactics included holding up orange signs made of cloth - the same kind used by US soldiers to warn their own aircraft not to drop bombs on them."

Members of the group said the 18-hour battle passed in a blur as they tried to return fire and help wounded friends while pinned down in a tiny wedge of rock.

One of them, Taji Moore, said he had been knocked over by a mortar round which also caught some of his friends.

"We were running and all of a sudden it was blackness and you're on your ass. You don't know how you got there. I knew that we'd got hit and I felt this burning in my body but then I checked and there was no blood," he said.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Fresh troops for Afghan battle zone
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
UN seeks to end Afghan abuses
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda 'executed US serviceman'
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda may use internet to regroup
07 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Operation Anaconda
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