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February Firefight at Mizan

By Michael Fumento

February 7, 2006. Approximately 40 Taliban are detected during daylight about 10 kilometers northwest of FOB Mizan. A jet could be called in on their position, dropping bombs and firing missiles and almost certainly killing some of them. But some of them isn't good enough out here. When you get the chance to kill or capture some, you try to kill or capture every last one of them. No airstrike can promise that on a group of men spread out precisely to avoid heavy casualties from the air or artillery. You have to go in and get them.

Practice on the Mizan FOB's 120 mm mortar, the largest mortar in the U.S. inventory. Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
A task force is quickly put together. It comprises Army Special Forces, a unit of the 10th Mountain Division, and B Co. 1-4 Infantry.

Approaching from three directions, the idea is to catch them in a pincer so that the only Taliban options will be death or surrender. B Co.'s contribution, headed up by unit commander 1st Lt. Kevin Stofan, is to stealthily set up a blocking position with five Humvees carrying a variety of weaponry inside the trucks and in the truck turrets.

"I pinpointed them in a saddle [a depression, literally shaped like a horse saddle]," said Stofan later. But the enemy quickly realizes their position is detected "and acted like the desperate men they were." If Stofan saw them first, they see him first among the Americans.

In quick succession they fire 5 RPG rounds at his vehicle. These are the most feared Taliban weapons on the battlefield. Humvee armor can stop machine gun fire from anything the Taliban can carry, but an RPG will rip right through it.

"Hang!" Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
The doors are open and a blast blows the driver, Pfc. Jonathan Zaehringer, six meters out of the vehicle. The M240 medium machine gun turret gunner, Spc. Marcel Green, nevertheless holds his position.

"He knew that an RPG round was coming and he just kept firing," said Stofan. The explosion ripped away three of his fingers. "An RPG round knocked me unconscious and I was pretty banged up," said Stofan. The medic in the vehicle, Pfc. Aaron Murray, suffered a concussion and shrapnel wounds to his hand.

Humvees are darned heavy (the Afghans call them "tanks") but the force of one of the RPG rounds causes this one to roll down a crest, separating those inside from an unconscious Zaehringer. The only unhurt and conscious man in the truck is Pvt. Stephen Wright, who just joined the unit two months earlier. He runs back up the hill, firing suppressive rounds from his M-4 carbine before grabbing Zaehringer -- who for all he knows is dead -- by the handle on his body armor and pulling him back to the Humvee.

"Wright was practically fresh out of basic training," Stofan said with a bit of awe in his voice, "and he did everything automatically."

. . . and . . . Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
Meanwhile B Co., SF, and the 10th Mountain blast back with M240s, M-203 grenade launchers, Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns, and a 60 millimeter mortar that B Co. brought along.

"We put a bad hurt on the Taliban," said Stofan. "Probably upwards of 30 were killed, although they were able to drag away most of the bodies."

After an agonizing wait, a Blackhawk drops out of the sky and evacuates the worst of the wounded. Later a jet destroys the Humvee, which is far beyond salvage.

"Fire!" Photo by Michael Fumento. Click image for larger view.
For his action, Wright was later awarded the bronze star with V device as was Green. Green, Zaehringer, and Murray all received purple hearts.

Wright is still with the unit, but doesn't like to talk about the night's events. Murray is also with the unit.

Pfc. Stephen Wright Click image for larger view.

Green is still recovering at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany while Zaehringer was treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital before being transferred to another hospital in Michigan. He's now recovering at his family's home in a small town just outside Chicago.

It's already an almost forgotten episode in America's forgotten war.

Michael Fumento has paid for this trip entirely out of pocket, including roundtrip airfare to Kuwait, war insurance, and virtually all his gear. Please support him via PayPal Donate or Amazon Honor System via the logos below.

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April 25, 2007 09:41 AM  ·  Afghanistan ~ Military