Tough Day Along the Pakistan Border
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Just across the border from Pakistan, commentator Benjamin Tupper is stationed in Afghanistan with the Army National Guard. He's embedded as a military trainer with the Afghan National Army, and he sent us this description of a patrol in a border village.
Captain BENJAMIN TUPPER (Army National Guard): One of the first signs of trouble is a lack of people out in a village, especially children. We were immediately aware of the absence of people as we drove in. Without warning, one of the Afghan National Army soldiers directly in front of us squeezed a barrage of AK-47 rounds. He'd seen a Taliban with an RPG on a rooftop aiming at our vehicle.
Not long after that, we started taking fire from the north. The enemy was shooting through small slits in a mud wall, which made hitting them nearly impossible. Then we began taking AK-47 and RPG fire from another walled compound to our south. Now we found ourselves in a crossfire ambush, and that's the worst place to be.
My teammate, Corporal Polanski(ph), was the machine gunner in the turret of our Humvee. He was the most powerful weapon we had. Bullets and RPGs were raining down on our forces. But Ski, as we called him, bravely remained in the gun turret, keeping the enemy from moving in and finishing us off.
I heard the blast of an RPG being fired. I turned and saw the rocket heading directly at us. As it ripped towards me, I noticed that the tale had a slight warble, and as the rocket flew closer, the warble intensified. Instead of slamming into me, it nosedived and exploded about 15 meters directly in front of us. A wave of blast, flame and debris knocked me backwards.
Ski and I were shocked, then we both grinned, happy to be alive. Within minutes, Ski was shot in the ear. One inch to the right and he would have been killed. Our radios couldn't reach headquarters, but I remember another tool. I had a cell phone; and because the Humvee is armored, there's no reception from within, so I had to stay outside to make cell phone contact. More cracking bullets and near misses.
In time, a heavy contingent of U.S. and Afghan National Army reinforcements arrived. A burly major stepped out of the first Humvee. What's the situation here, he said coolly. We've been surrounded and taken fire for two hours, I said. Surrounded? A look of amusement rose on his face. I love being surrounded.
As we maneuvered out of the ambush area, our convoy was attacked again. Then a terrifying blast ripped directly over us. We were all sure we had been hit by a rocket or RPG until we saw a French Air Force Mirage fighter jet tear past us at about 50 meters in the air. That's extremely low.
My legs are blown off, Ski yelled in panic. The noise was so overwhelming that his legs had buckled. For that brief moment, he thought the Humvee had been hit and he'd lost his legs. It was the first and only time I've ever seen him scared in combat.
INSKEEP: Commentator Benjamin Tupper is a captain with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan.