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Anaconda - A Novella for Covid Shutins

CHAPTER 9 (Cont'd)

Dunford and Shirazi had gone over the pros and cons of taking such a heavyweight system: an unusual item for a direct-action assault. In the end, the overriding factor was the anticipated nature of this fight. It would be far from a typical special operations HVT assault on a house or compound, instead it would be more like a raid on a fortified platoon position on what was for all intents and purposes, a conventional battlefield. The ability to bring some artillery of their own to the fight that could reach out to a kilometer and that they controlled, eventually outweighed the weight of nineteen pounds for the launcher and approximately eight pounds for each round.
12-ALPHA’s team of two bricks was the assault element. Shirazi’s three men formed the reserve and would be moving close behind Lennie’s. The fact that Lennie was already near the objective and had seen it meant that Shirazi had been able to use Lennie to do much of the reconnaissance and planning for the assault itself. In fact, during the first half of the night, while Shirazi’s group had been making their way up the Whale, Lennie had moved forward and reconnoitered and established an objective rendezvous, a release point, a vantage point and a support position and marked them with shielded eight-hour IR glow sticks.
They’d arrived at ALPHA’s base camp just before midnight. Dunford counted the patrol in to ensure everyone had made it.
While Lennie’s 2i/c and Corporal Henare looked after the redistribution of equipment and ammunition, Shirazi, Lennie, Dunford and Lennie’s ETAC hunkered down inside a small CP formed under a small rock overhang closed off to the outside with two groundsheets. Rather than risking even a red light, they continued to use their NVG to review Lennie’s assault plan. Shirazi handed him the air photo that he and Dunford had been using for planning purposes, and Lennie marked on it the route to the ORV; the route from the ORV to the rel P; and the two routes from the rel P: one to the VP for his assault force and the second to the SP for Dunford’s support force. He also marked a suggested alternate rally point in the event that the mission and the ORV and base camp became compromised and they had to regroup elsewhere. Shirazi asked a few questions about the latter, and since Lennie had seen it and vouched for its defensibility, he accepted it.
Within the hour they had set out. They had left all their rucks behind except for some with the support group for extra ammunition and a few empty ones with the assault group for hauling out any captured equipment or documents.
They progressed slowly and deliberately, making use of every contour the ground had to offer. Just short of the ORV they halted, and while Shirazi and Corporal Henare went forward to secure the ORV, Dunford closed the patrol up and took up an all-around defence.
Once the ORV was secured, Henare was left behind for security while Shirazi went back and brought the rest of the patrol forward. Dunford counted them out. At the ORV the patrol again formed into its defensive perimeter and conducted a listening halt to ensure that there was no activity in their area.
When Shirazi was satisfied he brought together his recce party: Dunford, Lennie, the ETAC and a JTF-2 assaulter and two Kiwis for security. The remainder of the patrol was left under the command of the remaining JTF-2 brick commander.
The recce party proceeded to the rel P where the ETAC called the circling Spectre for an update. The Spectre confirmed that it had eyes on their patrol, which had set out IR strobe markers, and the target, and confirmed minimal activity in each of the three AQ section positions—activity that was consistent with a single sentry being up at each one.
The ETAC and one of the Kiwis were left for security at the rel P while the rest of the party proceeded to travel in an arc toward the northeast side of the nearest AQ defensive position. At a rock outcrop about one hundred and fifty meters away Shirazi confirmed that they had a suitable VP and set the JTF-2 assaulter out as a security element watching south and east. They collectively scanned the area and identified the enemy trenches and the cave complex with its sanger defenses. The ground sloped up to the west—their right—as they looked at the enemy position. Also just visible from there was the AQ’s reserve position on the ridge’s crest and, further northeast along the ridge, another outcrop that would form the Kiwis support position.
Shirazi and Lennie discussed the route that the assault force would take from here, first through the northernmost section position and then into the sanger and cave complex. They discussed where the assault group would have to set out flanking security as it progressed to and into the cave and how they would withdraw once the mission was accomplished.
Once agreement was reached they left the assaulter behind to watch the flanks and withdrew back to the rel P where once again they checked in with the Spectre. It confirmed no change in the enemy situation and that they had marked the VP as a friendly forces location on their systems.
They carefully made their way on to the support position. Travel here was more difficult because of the state of the scree which was even more crumbly than before. Every step disturbed the stone. When weight was put down on a foot, shards of shale would snap under the pressure. Every step sounded like the snap, crackle and pop of a box of Rice Krispies. At first, every ten paces they halted and listened. As they grew more confident they would go for thirty before stopping. The wind continued to blow steadily: fortunately it was a westerly wind blowing the sounds from the enemy to them and from them away into the darkness below.
By 0100 hrs they had achieved getting into the support position just below the crest. They stayed low amongst the boulders to avoid being silhouetted against the very faint glow of the skyline. This time the remaining Kiwi was set out as security crawling to the crest to watch west and south.
Lennie pointed out the depth AQ section position which sat up on the crest line to their southwest again about one hundred and fifty meters away. There was no sign of any sentry. Below them they could make out a small shelf in the slope on which they could see both of the forward AQ positions: the first two hundred meters to their southeast, the second four hundred meters to their south. The CP and its sanger was not visible from here being hidden by the slope.
The height of this position made it obvious that it would be fairly easy to support the assault force going in, but equally it showed problems with fully neutralizing both the depth position and any counterattack force coming across the crest from the south with GPMG fire alone. The AQ’s depth position, if not fully taken out by the Spectre, could shoot into the assault force. They would need a contingency plan to keep the Spectre on that position during the assault and a further one where the Kiwis might have to take the position out with CarlG fire.
Leaving the security elements at each of the VP, SP and rel P, Shirazi, Lennie, Dunford and the ETAC returned to the ORV where the first three gave final confirmatory orders to their troops while the ETAC made final arrangements with the supporting Spectre.

CHAPTER 9 (Cont'd 2)

Spectres fly at relatively low altitude which means that they can frequently be heard overhead and which makes them vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. When they fire their weapons, the supersonic rounds reach the ground in only a few seconds and before the report of the guns’ firing can be heard. Even the sound of the incoming 105mm projectile tearing the air apart ends up following it down to the ground, and provides no warning to those in the direct way of the thirty-three pounds of steel and Composition B high explosive heading their way.
The insurgent relieving himself did have a warning. It just so happened that the sound of the engines of the aircraft caused him to look up at exactly the moment that a flash announced that the first 105mm projectile was leaving the aircraft. Mesmerized for a few seconds he stood and watched the flashes of a lighter automatic cannon. He neither heard nor saw the impact of the first round, which exploded forty meters away, nor the flying shard of steel that disemboweled him in an instant.
Shirazi and the rest of the assault team kept their heads down.
During this phase of the fire plan, the Spectre’s 105mm cannon would place ten shells into the northern section position and the sanger next to the CP while its 40mm cannon walked around the AQ depth section on the crest. Dunford’s people raked the remaining section position with GPMG fire during this phase.
The dust and the acrid smell of the high explosive blew over the assault team’s position as rock and steel fragments rained down. The lethal radius of a 105mm HE projectile was thirty-five meters but splinters could fly as far as six hundred or more. The team was positioned within the projectiles’ Danger Close area and Shirazi had previously confirmed to the aircraft the fact that he was accepting the risk of friendly fire casualties by providing the aircrew with his initials.
It wasn’t prudent to observe the target, nor was there any need. The impact flashes were bright enough to indicate the rounds were within the designated target area.
“Cy!” the ETAC nudged him. “NAIL-22 confirms Check Firing on ZULU TANGO 1001: Engaging ZULU TANGO 1002.” At Shirazi’s direction, the ETAC and the gunship had recorded four predesignated targets for the fire plan as well as four other possible defensive fire tasks. Target ZT1001 was the section position to their immediate front, ZT1002 was the far section and ZT1003, currently being engaged by the 40mm, was the depth platoon. The mortars to their south were ZT1004.
Sgt Lennie was close at hand. “Tom! You’re clear to go,” said Shirazi.
Lennie acknowledged with a thumb up and gave the word on his MBITR that caused his two assault teams to engage their IR beacons and set out on their predesignated routes into the heart of the enemy section position to their front. Shirazi’s three men followed along behind.
On the crest above them, Dunford’s team took note of the beacons and started raking the position to Lennie’s front with GPMP fire while the Spectre’s 105mm rounds started impacting the furthest away AQ section position.
Shirazi held back. Lennie’s job was to fight the assault. Shirazi’s was in overall command. In one of the many pockets on his tactical vest was his MBITR with which he controlled his team. On his back was a manpack FM radio for communicating back to Richter, other special operations teams, and helicopters. The ETAC stayed with him with all the gear necessary to call in and direct aircraft onto targets.
Holding back, however, was not the same as staying back. Once Lennie’s teams had moved about fifty meters forward, Shirazi had the ETAC saddle up and they started following the assault force in.
Ahead of him he could see the flashes of the 105mm coming in on ZT1002 at the rate of about one every fifteen seconds or so. Once the assault team was onto their first objective, the Spectre would change to lighter rounds to reduce the chance of fratricide while still keeping the target suppressed.
Suddenly to his front a C8 assault carbine opened up in short bursts followed by the chattering bursts of a C9 Light Machine Gun. Through the gunfire he could hear several shouts of “Grenade” followed by the crumps of their bursts then more C8 bursts.
Another C9 started firing bursts. Shirazi could see this one’s sparking muzzle flashes and its tracers heading towards the sanger and ricocheting off rocks in all directions. A C8’s laser illumination marked a target at the caves entrance and several M203 40mm grenades followed. The tracers from Dunford’s supporting fire had shifted to the south in advance of the assault force.
In amongst the machine guns chatter he could hear the flatter snaps of some return fire from the area of the sanger.
“12--DELTA. This is 12-ALPHA. CALGARY, Over.” Lennie was reporting that the first enemy section strongpoint was secure and that he was beginning his assault on the sanger.
“12-DELTA. Roger, out,” replied Shirazi then passed the codeword back to Richter. A brief acknowledgement: Richter would stay off the air and let him run his fight. The boss was good that way. No unnecessary chit chat or requests for SITREPs. He knew things were busy up here.
“Boss! NAIL-22 confirms check firing with 105mm on ZULU TANGO 1002. Engaging ZULU TANGO 1002 with 40mm and 1003 with 25mm. He’s also reported seeing personnel moving around the mortar position at 1004.”
“Have him keep the 25s on 1003 and tell him he can lift off 1002 and engage 1004 at his discretion when necessary.
“ALPHA and KILO, this is DELTA. NAIL-22 reports activity by the mortars at ZULU TANGO 1004. I’ve given him discretion to lift fire from 1002 and engage. ALPHA watch your southern flank, KILO observe 1002 and engage as required.”
“ALPHA. Roger, out,” replied Lennie.
“KILO. Roger, out,” from Dunford.
Shirazi and the ETAC moved slowly down a communications trench that had connected the fighting positions. Now that they were in them they could confirm that this section strongpoint had three fighting trenches.
There had been less development here than Shirazi had expected. Each trench was a pit about a meter deep and wide and about two meters long. Solid bedrock below kept them from being deeper. Each had a small cave-like sleeping pit dug maybe two to three feet laterally providing minimal shelter from the weather and overhead airburst. Blankets, plastic sheets, ammunition and personal effects littered the bottom of each.
The first held one body with massive splinter damage to the head: the obvious result of looking up at the wrong time.
The second trench had received a direct hit from one of the 105mm projectiles. Based on the number of body parts, Shirazi estimated there had once been two—maybe three—fighters here. The remnants of a tripod mounted PKMS and several twisted ammunition belts indicated that this had been the core of the defence on this side of the position. They were fortunate that the gun had never been able to get into action.
The third strongpoint was now occupied by one of the JTF-2 assaulters armed with a C9 LMG engaging the sanger and also watching to the south. The trench was tight here and the trooper was cheek to jowl with a dead insurgent bearing the distinctive pincushioning of having been too close to a C13 fragmentation grenade at the time of detonation. The C13, a Canadian made version of the American M67 was a little less than a half pound of Composition B explosive encased in a metal shell embossed with a fragmentation pattern on the inside. On detonation the shell breaks into hundreds of small high velocity splinters that are driven outwards to a lethal range of about 15 meters. Based on the patterning this one had been much closer.
A few feet further on lay another insurgent. This one was similarly marked up but was still alive—groaning but apparently unconscious. The assault team had hog tied his hands and feet together with several zip ties. There were no signs of weapons: probably thrown out of the trench so that the insurgent could not re-arm himself in case he came to.
Shirazi looked over to the sanger and out of the corner of his eye saw the flash of an RPG launch from the slope above the cave. While the rocket’s flight took only three seconds, Shirazi had only just started to duck when the round overshot them, and in a brilliant orange fireball exploded behind them. Shirazi heard a loud boom and was driven forward into the side wall of the trench. For a few seconds his world was a flurry of stones, grit and dust. He could feel a sting to his lower lip and cheek. The sting changed to a low throb and looking down he could just make out two trickles of blood from his head on the rocks.
The ETAC was beside him checking his face over.
“You just got some cuts on your face. It doesn’t look bad. Where’s your med-pack?” he asked.
Shirazi tried to speak but couldn’t, so he pointed to the pouch on his tactical vest that held a variety of first aid kit. On his MBITR headset he could hear Dunford giving orders to engage the RPG position with GPMG and CarlG fire.
The ETAC opened the pouch and took out the contents. He rummaged around the material and found what he needed. He used a piece of Kerlix gauze to wipe the wounds clean, and then had Shirazi hold the gauze in place to stem the bleeding while he prepared some anti septic wipes, two Kerlix gauze pads and pieces of surgical tape.
Shirazi tried to feel with his tongue whether or not any of his teeth were broken, but his mouth had too much sand and gravel in it to tell. There was a taste of blood in his mouth.
The ETAC removed the gauze from his lower lip and wiped the area with the antiseptic pad, placed a fresh piece of Kerlix gauze on it and then taped it down with the surgical tape. He repeated the procedure on Shirazi’s left cheek.
“That should do it until a medic can fix you up later,” he said. “If the tape doesn’t hold we can wrap some Kerlix around your head to hold the dressing in place. Open your mouth.”
Shirazi did as told. Another RPG came from the top of the ridge, this one sailing well overhead and exploding far down the slope below them. They ducked anyway.
“I can’t see any major damage. It’s just a cut on the inside of your lip. You must have pushed your teeth into it when you hit the rocks. Rinse it a couple of times with water. If it keeps bleeding you can shove a piece of dressing in between your lip and gums.”
Shirazi nodded and took some water from his camelback and rinsed and spit several times until his mouth felt better.
“Thanks,” he said. He did a mental inventory of his body: gently flexing muscles and looking for pain. In the dark it was hard to see every wound and a small splinter could have slipped in. With all the adrenaline in his system it might be hard to notice.
To his front, there was a continuing chatter of small arms fire: C8s and AKs. No more RPGs though. Two more 40mm grenades burst in the sanger. Then it became quiet in front, while on the crest the sporadic chatter of the GPMGs and the bangs of the CarlG continued from time to time.
Shirazi looked up above the trench line and saw movement as members of the assault team maneuvered around the sanger and closed on the cave.
“Grenade!” shouted a trooper as he threw a hand grenade into the opening. The blast was followed by another shout as a second one went in. The second blast was immediately followed by a brick of four troopers using their entry drills to storm the interior of the cave itself. The remainder of the assault team provided security.
The codeword for successful entry into the cave followed.
While Shirazi relayed the codeword back to Richter he watched Lennie enter the cave. Five minutes later Lennie confirmed that the cave had been swept and was safe. They wouldn’t waste time trying to analyze anything found. Everything of potential intelligence value would be hauled back in the empty rucksacks the assault group had brought with them. Despite this, Shirazi entered the cave to give it a quick once over to get a general impression of what they had found.
“What the hell happened to you?” asked Lennie when he saw Shirazi’s face.
“Bad zit. What have you got here, Tom?”
“Three dead in here, one badly wounded,” he replied. “We’ve got a bunch of radios and cell phones, some US NVGs, lots of paper and cash. Terry’s taking photos and measurements of the dead for our int guys for identification.”
Shirazi looked around. The cave was spacious but not deep. Not more than maybe fifteen meters. Tool marks on the walls indicated it had been expanded by hand. The furnishings were sparse but significant: writing desks, wooden wardrobes, three wood frame beds. Electric lights were on the ceiling and wires led outside, presumably to a generator. Two motorcycles parked inside the cave entrance. Old Soviet maps fastened to the wall. Shirazi looked closely at the largest map which was well marked up with Soviet era map symbols. Trench lines, bunkers, caves, weapons’ systems, arcs of fire, everything well laid out for the valley.
“Christ Tom. They’ve got a field hospital dug in on the far side of Takur Ghar with a medium mortar platoon right next to it. They’ve got the equivalent of two field artillery batteries here, over a dozen heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons systems and, if this thing is right, they’ve even got some kind of armored car. All told there are enough company size defensive positions and crew served weapons in the mountains to accommodate at least a battalion sized force with more than a battalion’s worth of mortars and artillery support.”
“Shit. Any idea of nationality?”
“Not Afghans. Map symbols are Soviet, lots of docs in Cyrillic—Chechens or Uzbeks probably.”
“Look at this here. These are Soviet symbols for ammunition depots and there’s one right here on Takur Ghar.” Shirazi called in the ETAC.
“Do you have contact with LEADER-6’s ETAC?”
“The CO of the 1st of the 187th. Over at DIANE.”
“Oh yeah, I got him.”
“Give him a call and tell him the ammo bunker they are looking for should be in the area of this grid reference.” Shirazi handed him a page from his field message pad where he had scribbled the grid down. “Let me know when he has acknowledged.”
Shirazi turned his attention to the documents, cell phones and radios laid out on the bodies. They’d be photographed with the bodies and bagged separately to help with subsequent identification and analysis. He walked over and had a quick scan of what was there.
“Uzbeks,” he said to Lennie, who nodded in acknowledgement.
Shirazi looked through one of the rucks where papers were being stuffed. There was little organization. There was no time to do a records management plan here. The IntOs could sort it out later. That, and the wounded prisoners.
One name that appeared on several documents jumped out at him: Yuldeshev

Upper Shah-i-Kot Valley near Takur Ghar
Thursday 7 Mar 02 0605 hrs AFT

When the first bomb had struck three days before, it had come as a surprise—from behind the Americans—striking the saddle between them: much closer to the Americans than to them. Again Norowz had heard the bomb splinters scream by overhead doing no damage
The second bomb impacted almost in the middle of their position. Norowz had been half way down the flank with one of the PKs when the bomb hit about sixty meters away. The blast knocked both him and the PK gunner sideways. The breath was knocked out of him and he had to will himself to breathe again. In shock, he had hardly noticed the dirt, dust, debris and body parts raining down on them. His head hurt and there was a ringing in his ears and nothing else—just a general numbness. The stiff cold winds quickly blew the dust cloud down the slopes of the mountain. As it thinned and his senses returned to him, he could see the PK gunner coughing up blood: more blood running out of his nose and ears. Norowz felt no pain, just a pressure on his chest. First he looked the gunner over and then himself, but found no obvious wounds other than blood trickling out of his own nose and one ear.
“Go back into the trench and move south,” he shouted pointing at the trench and the direction. The gunner groggily nodded his head and moved off at a slow crawl dragging the machine gun behind him.
Norowz wiped the blood off his face with his sleeve, rolled onto his front and crawled over toward the site of the impact. Along the way he found two others who had been knocked down but not hit by splinters. One was coughing up blood. Norowz directed them both to the rear.
He could see the blast crater now. It was right on his bunker. Praise God and his blessings. The hit had impacted on the wood and stone roof and had penetrated into the bunker before exploding. The two men inside and one who had been next to it had ceased to exist. Body parts covered in mud made from dust and blood lay strewn around: the largest a torso with one arm and one leg still attached. All that he could see of the rest was shreds of burned meat, some recognizable as a part of an arm or leg. The depth of the bunker, however, had absorbed most of the fragmentation of the bomb directing the blast upward and away rather than flat across the position.
Tofan approached the crater from the opposite side. “How many hit on your side?” Norowz asked.
“There are two dead a few meters over and one with a bad wound on the arm a bit further down. They’ve stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet. There are maybe a half dozen that will have really bad headaches for a week.”
The shriek of a jet passing over their position made them pull themselves down against the ground but this last bomb had impacted on the eastern slope, again closer to the Americans than to themselves.
“Leave the men in the northwest bunker where they are with one PK and twenty RPGs. Take everyone else back into their own bunkers. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on the enemy. You look after the others. Get them what help they need, get some rest and stay under cover. Be prepared to come up to support me if the Americans come after us. In a half hour come up to relieve me so that I can go back to talk to the men.”
“Yes, Commander. God go with you.”
“And you Tofan. Go with God.”
Norowz made his way to the northwest bunker and explained to them what he wanted them to do and that he would move to the other flank to get a better view of the eastern slope.
It took him ten minutes of crawling through the communication trenches.
He dug himself in amongst the rocks along the side of Azlan’s bunker; made sure he had a blanket for protection from the ever watchful aircraft. Overhead he could hear them circling—like carrion eaters they waited to find a vulnerable target. Every once in a while the valley to the south and east would erupt in massive bomb strikes but none were closer than five hundred meters to them.
Tofan crawled up to his position and gave him the list of those who had died—three seasoned fighters from their town who had been with them for years and two youngsters who had only come to them here in the valley. The man wounded in the arm would probably not die but the one coughing blood was not getting any better. Both would be sent down the mountain tonight to the hospital below and then would make their way to Pakistan as best they could. Pickup trucks and motorcycles continued to move back and forth below. The others were getting better although three were still groggy and kept slipping into and out of sleep. They would watch them carefully through the night.
“Do you want any more men up here tonight, Commander?” asked Tofan.
“No. They’ll have planes up that can see our men at night unless they’re in bunkers and we have only one of those on this side. I don’t think they’ll come for us. They’re only interested in getting their men off this mountain. We’ll let them go. Tomorrow we’ll go carefully and see what they have left behind.”
Throughout the day the wind stiffened and the temperature dropped. From time to time they had trading shots with the Americans. Despite Norowz’s warnings reinforcements continued to try to reach the top of the mountain only to be picked off by planes or the enemy machine guns on the peak as well as the peak to their south.
Eventually the helicopters had come again. Well after dark. One by one.
In an hour they were gone and the mountain was quiet.
With Tofan and a group providing overwatch, Norowz and a security detail slowly and carefully picked their way across the saddle to check out the abandoned helicopter and the fate of the Uzbeks. They carried blankets draped over their heads to hide as best they could from the night vision equipment on the aircraft overhead.
Below them more Taliban were still making their way into the valley to the villages. The bombings and gunships’ attack runs continued throughout the night.
The Americans had stripped the downed helicopter of electronics and weapons. What wasn’t gone had been smashed. Everywhere in and around the helicopter were blood and the detritus of battle: blood soaked bandages, discarded medical packaging wrappers, empty ration packs, expended shell casings, machine gun links, insulation ripped out of the fuselage. The snow, so pristine the day before, had been trampled over. Signs of blood were everywhere.
The peak was littered with dead Uzbeks. Their bodies and pieces of their bodies were in the trenches and lodged between boulders. It was clear that some had been shot by small arms but many more were the victims of bombs and artillery fired from the gunships. Norowz could not recognize Mohmad amongst any of the dead.
They found few weapons—the Americans had either taken them or thrown them over the cliff. That would probably be the fate of the Uzbeks too. Norowz’s Taliban brothers were removing bodies from the battlefield as quickly as they could as much to hide them from the Americans as to ensure they received a proper burial. The same care would not being taken for their despised allies. If they pitched the Uzbeks down the mountain, they would be hidden from the Americans and they would be no great burden to their hosts.
Norowz’s men left the bodies in place for the time being taking back to their own position whatever of value that they could find.
Just before dawn another group of Taliban had made their way to the top and occupied the Uzbeks’ position. He had spoken with their leader, a one-eyed Zadran from the Nader Shah Kot district to the east. They had been traveling to join the fight for the entire previous day and had arrived at the eastern mouth of the gorge below that evening. His group had wanted to see what loot could be found on the mountain and to fight the Americans there so they had spent the rest of the night coming up.
The group had gotten another DShK into action on the mountain top and began firing intermittently into the valley below, targeting particularly the new American mortars in the compound at its northern end. The idiot did no damage for all that Norowz could tell except draw even more unwanted attention to the peak.
Norowz left it to them to clean up the Uzbek mess. He had his own mess to work on. The most serious wounded and the dead had gone down the mountain. The remainder made a half-hearted attempt to clean up their positions but mostly they rested. Ammunition was no problem but now that the Americans were in the valley, cooked meals had stopped coming from Zurmat. They had another two days of food available and if they did not get resupplied would definitely have to pull out. Their field telephone was still out but they now had some radio communications again with the commanders below. He got the word that Mansour was dead: killed the first day but only now confirmed. The leadership was in disarray but leadership didn’t matter that much to groups as unstructured as the Taliban were. New leaders would arise; new alliances would be made; time was on their side.
The day wore on. Below they followed the slow but steady progress of the Americans coming down the valley from the north.
The afternoon had gone badly. Very badly.
American planes had come raining bombs, rockets and cannon fire into the gorge just to their east, and had broken up a large force of reinforcements that were gathering to come into the valley and to attack the Americans over the slopes. That night a small team of seven fighters had made it up to the peak during the night and had told them how devastating the strikes had been. Hundreds were dead or wounded they said. They had spent the first part of the night helping to clear up the carnage by the light of four burning trucks. The cold weather had made a mist which they swore had been pink with the blood of those killed. As the fires died down the job had become impossible and the various surviving groups below held a shura to determine what to do. Some had elected to leave, some to enter the valley, others to wait until dawn to clear up the rest of the dead in the gorge. His team had decided to come to the peak to fight.
Even while the bombs were falling in the gorge, a new strong force of Americans had landed in the valley to Norowz’s northwest. The landing occurred in daylight. The Americans had so little regard for them now that they would land in the valley during the day. He had never given the Sheik much credit before but now he could clearly see how wrong bin Laden had been: the Americans would not turn tail if you hurt them. We had hurt them the first day but they are still coming on. Worse, there was nothing that we could do to stop or hurt the landing. The helicopters departed safely. The Americans had landed safely: and then they proceeded to climb Takur Ghar.
Norowz and Tofan started readying for defence, incorporating the seven new men into their group. Positions were shifted and improved, ammunition redistributed, food shared out. The attack wouldn’t come until after dawn. The weather had once again closed in and they were sure there would be no more activity from the Americans on the mountain this night. They went back to their blankets in the falling snow awaiting the dawn.
But they had forgotten about the aircraft.
In the few remaining hours before dawn, two aircraft flew back and forth across the face of the mountain dropping bombs seemingly randomly. They hit several locations and as far as Norowz could tell in the dark, without effect. That is until the last bomb exploded. The explosion from the single bomb triggered a massive secondary explosion followed by numerous tertiary ones. The mountain top shook and shook and shook.
Norowz knew immediately what had happened. Below him, close to the fighting positions that contained the leadership element for this mountain had been a large cave full of ammunition. He had been there a few weeks before to draw weapons and ammunition for his own force. It was the foreign jihadiis’ largest ammunition dump in the country having been created decades before by the local Mujahideen warlords fighting the Russians. The foreigners had taken it over and expanded on it continuously over the many years. There were untold quantities of small arms and cartridges, grenades, RPGs, mines, artillery shells, anti-aircraft missiles and many, many thousands of kilograms of explosives. The slopes continued to roil as the explosions worked themselves deeper and deeper into the caves in massive chain reactions.
Dawn broke cold, clear and crisp.
Smoke continued to billow forth from the caves below as the ammunition continued to burn.
The dawn reinforced Norowz’s belief that it was time to leave. From the crest he could tell that a general pullout had started. From their vantage point they could see signs of frenzied activity throughout the three villages. Individuals were hustling about carrying gear: pickup trucks and SUVs were visible in compounds being loaded with equipment and bodies.
Not just a repositioning: it was definitely a withdrawal which was in progress. Most would wait until tonight to go but even now he could see fighters in twos and threes walking out of the valley carrying just their rifles and RPGs. Often several would be carrying a coffin. Here and there, vehicles were bouncing along the trails helping to take out some of the crew served weapons: and more coffins. Many that he could see were heading for the passes to the south. Some then turned east for the gorge below their position. Others were heading southwest, probably heading for Zurmat. Almost all of the heavy equipment would have to be abandoned as would much of the remaining ammunition still stored in caves overlooking the valley. Luckily there was more in other caves in other valleys spread between here and Miran Shah.
The airplanes kept coming but their attacks did little to stem the flow. The valley was like a sieve. The planes weren’t there all the time and as soon as they came overhead the fighters went to ground pulling grey or brown blankets over themselves: blending into the thousands of ditches, crevasses, irrigation canals and stream beds that covered the valley.
With the dawn, it was also clear that the Americans had given up on their attempt to scale the mountain. Norowz stood on top of their northwesternmost bunker. Unlike the one on the east which was made of wooden beams and rocks and earth, this one was made of concrete blocks. It must have taken many donkeys many trips to bring these up, he thought. Below him the Americans were carefully making their way back down to the valley. Their mortars stopped from time to time to join in with other American mortars targeting the commotion in the three villages.
There was nothing to defend here on the mountain anymore. There was no way they could influence the fight from here. The Americans clearly didn’t care about the peak anymore either. It was time to go.
Norowz and Tofan had called a shura of their most seasoned fighters and those of the Zadrans on the peak. Over chai they discussed their options. They agreed to wait until dusk, taking the daytime to pack up and rest for the march. The Zadrans would head east to go home to the Nader Shah Kot and offered Norowz and his people hospitality there. Norowz and Tofan thanked them for the offer and left it open for any of their men who wanted to take up the offer. The two of them, however, were going to Miran Shah in Pakistan to join up with whatever other Taliban would make it there. Their objective was to head through the mountains to where the Pakistani border was the closest, about fifty kilometers away, with whatever of their fighters cared to join them. One of the seven newcomers had grown up in Spera district and knew the mountains southeast of here all the way to Pakistan. He agreed to be their guide. They would hold up in Spera for a day or two and then make the crossing.

Allah is favoring us, thought Norowz as he, Tofan and the six of their group who had chosen to follow them and their guide to Miran Shah made their way across the valley east of the mountain. It had snowed again. There was a new fifteen centimeters on the ground and the sky was heavily overcast. They had come down the east side without incident. No aircraft had bothered them and they heard only a few bombs behind them. It was colder than any of the previous nights since the Americans had come.
They had come off the mountain’s trails and were now walking along the road, which had run along the southern side of the mountain through the gorge. It was an old road that had originally been built for donkeys and carts and been improved to handle vehicles. By improved, it meant it had been leveled by having the largest boulders levered aside and tons of the ubiquitous shale and gravel spread around by hand with pick and shovel and crow bar. In places, the winter snows and the recent truck traffic had turned the surface into slurried muck despite the freezing temperatures.
It was ahead of them in just such a spot that Norowz spotted a pickup truck stuck and spinning its wheels while several men tried to push it clear. Norowz halted his group and told them to wait quietly while he went ahead to check things out.
As he neared the truck he could see that the men were wearing the black clothing typical of the al Qaeda foreigners. One of them shouted over at him in Arabic. “Hey you! Get over here and push!”
Norowz had just been ready to offer a hand but the tone of the foreigner had been immediately insulting. Instead of replying in Arabic, he replied in Pashto instead, “I can’t understand what you are saying, brother.”
The foreigner turned to one of his comrades at the back of the truck and said, again in Arabic, “Tell this idiot farmer to push.”
“Yes, commander,” replied the man. Turning to Norowz he said to him in Pashto, “The commander requests your assistance. Please help us push this truck out, brother.”
Norowz nodded, “Of course, I have some friends with me. I’ll just go get them.”
Norowz returned to his men. The courtesy of the fighter had not taken away any of the anger aroused by the discourteous behavior of his commander. Inwardly he seethed. These people and their stupid plan to kill Americans in their own lands had caused this war. Their arrogance in the face of our hospitality had been displayed once too often. It took every bit of willpower that he had to keep him from having his men kill them all.
“Tofan! Get the men up. We’re going to climb up the slope and pass around these people.”
“Are we not going to help them commander?”
“No, brother. We will not.”
Norowz led the way up onto what was only a low knoll. In a few minutes they were several dozen meters above the foreigners and passing them by on the crest of the knoll. Below he could hear shouting.
Norowz led the way along the broken snow covered ground and soon had them back down on the road again. It was time for the Fajr and Norowz was looking for a suitable place for a halt. The road they had been following had an upward climb and as they reached the top they passed through a draw between two hills. He glanced around. Behind them in the darkness were the foreigners and the Americans: to their front the first rays of the sun were kissing the tops of mountain peaks that would offer them sanctuary.

Anaconda is a work of fiction but based on the events of Operation ANACONDA which took place in and around the Lower Shah-i-Kot valley in Paktia Province, Afghanistan from March 2nd to 18th, 2002.
I wrote this novella after I wrote the book Allies: The Inquiry as a way of further developing the backstories of several of the key characters. When writing The Inquiry I had simply needed a fairly recent operation where Sambrook and Richter could have fought together. The presence of Canada’s JTF-2 and 3PPCLI, the German KSK, the Australian SASR, elements of 10th Mountain, the US and other special operations forces made the battle an ideal locale where various Allies from many nations shared their first combat experiences. Similarly the polyglot of Taliban and their allied forces that sought refuge in the Shah-i-Kot enables a shared back story for those characters as well.
At the time that I wrote The Inquiry only some minor research was necessary for its purposes. For this novella, however, that research had to be vastly expanded and it quickly became clear that Op ANACONDA had numerous lessons for the military student. There is no shortage of books, papers and articles written about what went wrong: and also what went very right.
An initial strategic concept of Op ENDURING FREEDOM was to minimize the presence of foreign (i.e. American) soldiers in Afghanistan so as to minimize the anti-foreigner backlash of the Afghan people—as had been seen by the rise of the mujahideen movement against the Soviets. The use of the ODAs and air power joining with the Northern Alliance was wildly successful and resulted in the defeat of the Taliban and its allies as a military force. However, in consequence, there were few conventional forces in the country to participate in Op ANACONDA: total US force strength in January 2002 was approximately 4,300 which grew to 6,100 by April. Headquarters, battalions and companies had all been required to deploy under strength and minus many of the support troops and heavy equipment they were trained to work with. Vehicles, helicopters, artillery and key staff were left at home because of airlift or political (both military and civilian) restrictions.
Intelligence clearly failed the mission. An over confidence in technology and an absence of accurate HUMINT left the understaffed mission planners with a complete misunderstanding of the nature and location of the population they would meet in the valley and how they would react on contact.
For all the courage shown by the SEALs, Rangers and helicopter crews on Takur Ghar, the errors which led to this debacle in the first place were significant. I have not covered them in this story as the storyline’s viewpoint is that from outsiders looking in. Others, in particular Sean Naylor, have covered the inside story brilliantly.
I could go on but instead I’ll refer the reader to the four works in the acknowledgement as a way of further exploring this battle.
As a preliminary to the story itself, I need point out that Phil Sambrook is not a pseudonym for the real commander of the 2nd of the 87th Infantry at the time—and who incidentally won a Silver Star for his actions in the events of that battle. Phil is a purely fictional character and his actions and the opinions expressed by him in this story are his—and mine—alone. The actions of the battalion in this story, however, are based on accounts by the participants or other (sometime conflicting) reports of the battle.
JTF-2, 3 PPCLI, the KSK, Australia’s TF 64 and New Zealand’s SAS all participated in this battle.
TF 64 did screen the southern battle zone and while some of the SASR activities set out are based in fact, the characters and events on Hill 3089 are fictional.
Members of JTF-2, the KSK and NZ SAS were all members of TF K-Bar and were part of the screening forces on the northern and eastern edge of the battle zone. The infiltration and exfiltration issues of KSK’s 9-A, B and D are based on German accounts. The actions of the combined JTF-2 and NZ SAS troop in the valley and on the Whale are fictional.
Six snipers from 3 PPCLI did accompany the Rakkasans on the stages of the battle. Two of them, Cpl Rob Furlong and MCpl Arron Perry, each using a McMillan Tac-50, were credited with what were then the longest recorded kill shots at 2,430 meters and 2,310 meters respectively. 3 PPCLI itself was brought up from Kandahar to sweep the Whale during the period March 13th to 19th 2002 under what was designated Op HARPOON, the final stage of the battle.
Both Norowz Mohammad and Mohmad Khanov are fictitious.
There were Uzbeks on Takur Ghar during the battle of March 4th on what is now called Roberts’ Ridge. The events Norowz is involved with throughout this story are all based on actual events. While there is no certainty that a force, like Norowz’s, was in place on the southern knoll of the saddle on Takur Ghar when the first helicopters landed on the peak on the 4th, there were certainly fighters there later that morning. At around 1115hrs, after the QRF had defeated the Uzbeks on the peak, this force attacked the QRF from the southern knoll causing additional casualties.
Norowz will return to Afghanistan in the next book Allies: The Trial.
I should add one final comment as to the dedication to this book.
When I started writing, the Kiwis had no role in this story. On the same day that I finished writing the chapter on the Aussie SASR’s view of the Battle of Takur Ghar two things occurred. First I saw a video on YouTube of a very moving farewell haka by the 2/1st Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment to their three fallen comrades killed by an IED in Bamiyan Province, Afghanistan. A few minutes later, I read an article respecting the incredibly insensitive (to be charitable) comments by a Canadian film maker living in New Zealand maligning Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker: one of the three killed, a medic, and the Kiwis’ first female combat fatality. In that moment it was clear to me that New Zealanders would have to have a role in this story alongside their Canadian allies.

This book is dedicated to Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker
From all Canadians who unreservedly honor your sacrifice and that of your comrades.


There are numerous books, papers and articles that deal with Operation ANACONDA. Of the hundred and more used as research for this novella, the following four deserve special recognition:
Malcolm MacPherson, Roberts Ridge: A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan, 2006, Bantam Dell, New York NY, — an excellent and detailed account of the events that unfolded on the top of Takur Ghar.
Sean Naylor, Not A Good Day To Die, 2005, Berkley Books, New York, — provides a brief description of the events on the top of Takur Ghar itself but excels in adding context by recounting in detail the intelligence gathering process, the battle planning and the leadership at higher and lower levels of the events leading up to the Takur Ghar incident. It is the most significant source for information about the intimate workings within the various special operations forces involved in the operation.
Because they focus on the Takur Ghar incident, both MacPherson’s book and Naylor’s basically end with the events on the mountain.
Donald P Wright PhD et al, A Different Kind of War: The United States Army in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) October 2001-September 2005, 2010, Combat Studies Institute Press Fort Leavenworth KS – a study of the first four years of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM written for the US Army Training and Doctrine Command. Again it provides a balanced view of the events and circumstances leading up to Operation ANACONDA although not with the detail or candor of Naylor’s account. It does, however, cover all of the operation to its end.
Lester Grau, The Coils of Anaconda: America’s First Conventional Battle in Afghanistan, 2009, Dissertation for PhD University of Kansas – goes into much greater detail than Wright’s account. While in Wright the events of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM to the end of Operation ANACONDA take some 174 pages, Grau’s account takes some 524. For the most part events of the battle are set out in a concise chronology. Grau’s prior writings on the Soviets in Afghanistan and mountain warfare add additional depth and context to the account as does his focus on enemy deployments and activities. It is also the one with the best recounting of the Canadians’ involvement.

Once again, special thanks to Kathy for her unstinting support in spite of my late nights or my being quietly secluded when the words were coming or when just one more obscure fact needed to be verified.
She continues to be my main resource for grammar and those occasions where the computer’s spell check just isn’t good enough.
There will be more late nights: the Allies will unite again.

You can find information on the rest of my books here: https://sites.google.com/view/wolfriedel



Very entertaining and I have been waiting each day for the next serial. Thx for this. It has made my isolation a lot more bearable.

Consider the good in the emoji to be great
Great read, FJAG!  Enjoyed it a lot. Nice blend of known facts and reasonable fiction!  BZ
I try to do that with all my books. This one's the most immersed in the factual scenario although in almost all of them I try to make some use of the existing current events, actual units involved and so on (The first one of the Mark Winters, CID books "The Bay" actually plays in part in Op Medusa) . Mostly I try to stay with "reasonable" fictional scenarios as well. I have no single superhero characters and most revolve around a team of individuals working together to solve a case/situation (hence the title "Allies")

The one I'm working on currently is a bit further out there working on a husband and wife sexual predator team in Miami. My little "heart" event of last October has set me quite far behind on that one - need another 70,000 words.