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Reporter Shares Firsthand Look at Taliban Ambush

September 17, 2010 at 5:32 PM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now: a real-world glimpse of what Afghanistan looks like to the American troops fighting there on the ground.

Our report comes from James Foley of GlobalPost, the international news Web site. He was with an American infantry unit that was ambushed recently in Kunar Province, where U.S. and Taliban forces often confront each other.

A warning: This report contains graphic pictures and language.

JAMES FOLEY, GlobalPost: Much of the U.S.’s military attention has been focused on Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold in the southwest of the country. But, in Kunar Province in the northeast, the firefights have been just as fierce.

The area’s mountainous terrain and proximity to Pakistan have made it a haven for insurgents. A company of infantrymen from the 101st 1st Brigade have been almost under constant attack since they arrived in May to this furthest north outpost in their battalion. In June alone, they lost seven troops to IEDs and suicide attacks. And two more have been killed in firefights and rocket strikes.

(GUNFIRE)

JAMES FOLEY: Alpha Company has fought back with withering firepower, reportedly killing scores of enemy, while avoiding any civilian casualties. But the attacks keep coming. In late August, 2nd Platoon soldiers were preparing to patrol in the town of Asadabad to survey polling sites for the upcoming provincial elections.

They were passing a well-known ambush site when they were hit by a coordinated attack from the surrounding cliffs.

Initially, Private Justin Greer, age 19, manned the turret-mounted grenade launcher while the convoy took fire in the bottom of the steep valley.

(GUNFIRE)

SOLDIER: Give me an ammo (INAUDIBLE).

SOLDIER: Here you go.

JAMES FOLEY: Several minutes into the firefight, Greer was shot in the helmet and knocked from the turret.

SOLDIER: Ah! (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

SOLDIER: In the head.

SOLDIER: Oh.

(SHOUTING)

SOLDIER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) man.

SOLDIER: Sit up.

SOLDIER: Your helmet saved you, man.

SOLDIER: Hey, is he all right?

SOLDIER: Hang on.

SOLDIER: He’s bleeding a little bit, but he’s going to be all right.

(GUNFIRE)

SOLDIER: Hang on. Hang on .

SOLDIER: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

JAMES FOLEY: It was only after this near catastrophe that we see the convoy’s front truck is on fire, and, worse, the soldiers have pulled a casualty to the side of the mountain, as others frantically begin to work on him.

(SHOUTING)

SOLDIER: Later. Later.

JAMES FOLEY: While platoon leaders work to stabilize the patient, others provide cover and communicate with the base on radios.

A soldier suffering a concussion leans against a buddy, who helps him towards the vehicle. Then, a litter carried by four soldiers bears the most seriously wounded, the driver, to the makeshift evacuation vehicle.

After the most severely wounded soldier is loaded, we run to the now front vehicle and join the soldiers initially hit in the lead vehicle.

SOLDIER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

SOLDIER: You all good?

SOLDIER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

SOLDIER: He don’t know.

SOLDIER: (EXPLETIVE DELETED) huge.

JAMES FOLEY: Private Jon Duran, also in the initial blast, is showing all the symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury. This is his third possible concussion. The soldiers are still reeling physically, and confused as to what happened.

SOLDIER: Trying to get out the damn tourniquet out. I hope I got that tourniquet on tight enough.

JAMES FOLEY: But even in this state, Duran pulled their driver, who lost his right arm to the elbow, from a burning truck. And despite his possible concussion, Townsend put on a tourniquet that might have saved his life.

PRIVATE JESSE TOWNSEND, U.S. Army: Like, once we got hit and, like, we noticed there was a fire and smoke building up, we all wanted to get out. But we were taking small-arms fire, so we couldn’t go anywhere, pretty much pinned down.

SOLDIER: Come on. Come on. There we go.

SOLDIER: On there good.

PRIVATE JESSE TOWNSEND: You could see, but everything was really blurry, and plus, you know, being dizzy and all the smoke, and eyes squinting. I’m glad I did it right.

JAMES FOLEY: The soldier who lost part of his arm has been stabilized and is evacuated to Bagram Air Base.

JIM LEHRER: You can watch the entire unedited story on the GlobalPost Web site. You can find a link on our site, NewsHour.PBS.org.