16 Apr 2007

PR# 2007-309

Extremists pushed deeper into eastern mountains

JALALABAD AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Several unexpected air assaults by International Security Assistance Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers sent the enemy scrambling into the mountains of eastern Afghanistan over the last two weeks, denying the enemy safe haven in an area where they have, until recently, felt most comfortable.

A platoon from ISAF’s “Combat” Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Spartan began operations with an early morning air assault the soldiers hoped would catch enemy fighters still in the villages.  Although they did not kill any enemy forces, they uncovered a cache of munitions left behind, depriving extremists of at least two attacks worth of material.  The platoon also called in a barrage of artillery on suspected Taliban positions high in the mountains.

“This mission was a squeeze on the enemy to initiate an offensive,” said 1st Lt Timothy Lo. “Our intent was to surprise them deep in the mountains to deny them operations here.”

“Operation Big Axe” cut a major supply route used by extremists left over from the Taliban regime who desperately seek to have an impact on the progress of the Afghan government.

“This was part of a battalion operation,” said Sgt 1st Class Frank Handoe, the Vikings’ platoon sergeant. “There were elements to the south and west set up in blocking positions. Our first air assault was in the town of Tsapre which is near the center of the enemy supply route.”

Patrols were sent out soon after the platoon set up their temporary patrol base, scouring the area for enemies and caches.

The Spartan soldiers discovered a cache that included 10 mortars, three recoilless rifle rounds, 500 rounds of small-arms ammunition and materials that could be used to make improvised explosive devices.

“One thing we noticed is that a lot of middle aged-males were no longer in the village,” said Lo. “Because of our presence all of the fighters or sympathizers [have] left. By [being here] ……. we are denying the enemy safe haven deep in the mountains where they hide, plan and coordinate. Now they are on the run.”

The mission was intended to do more than kill the enemy. Enemy fighters have been notorious for intimidating locals in order to preserve their ability to use remote mountain villages as a base of operations from which to launch attacks on ISAF forces.  ISAF and Afghan forces, however, have a different approach, said Lo.

“We air assaulted into the villages to surprise them [the Taliban extremists] and leave them little to no time to move caches but also to engage the local populace and to turn the neutral villagers to us,” said Lo.  “The majority of the people here just want to live their daily lives – to have their villages improve by seeing clinics, roads, schools and supplies.  They understand that in order to have those things, security needs to be certain. They need to work with ISAF and the Afghan government to push the enemy away.”

After securing the village, the platoon distributed bundles of humanitarian aid including blankets, jackets, rice, flour, along with school and medical supplies.

The biggest success was the connection the soldiers made with the locals as well as the removal of the cache which would put the enemy back a week, said Handoe.

“This cache find took one or two attacks away from the enemy. This will help us push the enemy deeper into the mountains. This is the first time we’ve been in this area. A few more times and we’ll start finding the big ones.”

Contact Information ISAF Public Affairs Office
Tel: +93 (0)799 51 1155 - Mobile: 0093 (0) 799 55 8291 pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int - www.nato.int/isaf/