Operation Medusa the second Battle for Panjwai
SSG Oleksak, Joseph R.
Engineer SLC 001-19
28 November 2018
Operation Medusa was fought from September second through the seventeenth and at that time was the most significant battle ever undertaken by NATO forces. This was the second time the Panjwai valley had to be taken back from the Taliban. Taking the lead in the offence was the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regimental Battle Group, with support from the Netherlands, United States 1st Battalion 3rd Special Forces groups augmented by Alpha Company 2nd Battalion 4th Infantry Division, 10th Mounting Division and Route Clearance Package 3 (RCP 3) 2nd Platoon (PLT) Bravo Company 27th Engineer Battalion. United Kingdom, Denmark and Afghanistan National Army. With Allied Forces equaling two thousand strong and an estimated enemy force strength of twelve hundred plus this was to be a fight to be remembered. This paper will be a first-hand writing on the experiences of, 2nd Squad RCP 3 with some references for historical correctness and quotes.
Operation Medusa the second Battle for Panjwai
“They’ve been to a place beyond the normal world. They’ve seen their friends lying wounded on the ground, seen them die. And they’ve seen their own death: it was right there, in the rockets flying by—the end of everything. It’s a place without illusions; a place where fear and courage are the same thing: live or die, you do your duty, or you don’t. It’s a place from which any return is difficult. Don’t feel sorry for them, they don’t want that. They are professional warriors and the first thing the men of Charley Company want you to know about the battle for Objective Rugby is that they didn’t lose. Not on the day. Not on the mission. The attack failed, and it was bloody chaos. Yes. But the task force kicked a mighty amount of Taliban ass that day. It was a tragic day, but we all knew what to do next. We would ready ourselves to go right back in.” (Fraser, 2018) —General Ben Freakley
Operation Medusa kicked off like any other morning with a call to prayer for a wake up the smell of the Kandahar sewage pond fog and the wonderful smell sitting on the ODA compound with the Platoon of Combat Engineers just wondering what the day would have in store for us. We just did not know that this day would be not your standard clearance mission. RCP 3 was not the standard Route Clearance PLT they were the mobile PLT, so they had a unique mission where they jumped from Forward Operating Base (FOB) to FOB not really having a base of operation or staying in one place too long. So, they got to support all different units on the 2006 through 2007 deployment to Afghanistan. This really sucked but made the time go by fast. And that is what brought RCP 3 into the fight for Operation Medusa, 2nd PLT, Bravo Company 27th Engineer Battalion was requested to come to Kandahar in support of the 1st BN 3rd SF Group to provide clearance into the Panjwai Valley, little did they know that was not all that was to be asked of them.
The morning of 2nd September 2006, everyone got the OPORD brief and the mission kicked off at first light. RCP 3 took lead to clear for all the U.S forces into Panjwai to the pre-designated Assembly Area (AA), and that was the main mission for RCP 3 was continuous Route Clearance to keep freedom of maneuverability for all friendly forces within the area of operation. Clearing into the area you could tell the fight was going to be coming when all the woman and children were leaving the area. But the first wave made it in without any resistance. It was not until the second clearance in that some small engagements started to happen, but it was more of a harassment type to slow down the convoy than a full-on assault. Assuming it was to give the Taliban time to get the IED’s that was later found on route time to be emplaced. At the end of that day all friendly U.S forces had made it to the AA, and over the next 4 days RCP 3 used their Husky to clear the area for the AA of any possible landmines, while the rest of the PLT set up concertina wire for a secure position for the Howitzers. SOF units push to their pre-determined Battle locations and the battle had begun over the first night although the AA did not receive any fighting you could hear the Canadians fighting for their lives across the river and by the first light the mission for RCP 3 would change from a support clearance mission to a direct-action mission.
Change in Mission
The change in mission came through the 10th Mountain to support 2 separate simultaneous operations one mounted and one dismounted. This change of mission came on the 7th of September and was to be executed on the 9th of September 2006. The PLT was to be split with the majority of the PLT staying with the Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Leader for the mounted operation, and one Squad plus for the dismounted operation. Second squad was the squad selected for the dismounted OP, and training in the AA began. On the morning of the 9th the operation started, it was to conduct dismounted clearance through the village of Pashmule. While the mounted element pushed to an Afghan school to secure it from the Taliban. Leaving the husky and one HMMWV with one operator for each vehicle at the AA.
The mission started from the AA, with alpha team 2nd Squad taking point, with 2 U.S Embedded Training Team (ETT) members, Afghan National Army (ANA) intermingled through the formations. Leading the dismounted patrol followed by elements from 1st PLT C Co, 2-87th Infantry Company, with the rest of the company following about 100 meters in trail. It was not too long into the patrol before the interpreter started to intercept ICOM chatter from the Taliban saying that they were going to ambush the patrol. Within minutes of receiving this information the fight was on with the first contact hitting the rear of the movement with a volley of RPG’s and small arms fire forcing the rear half of 1st PLT 2-87th INF and the rest of the company to fall back, cutting off the forward element from the rest of the company and surrounding them.
The fight quickly turned into a 360-degree fight, and within the first few minutes the sheer amount of RPG’s that were fired at the remaining one Squad of Engineers and one Squads of Infantry was beyond the amount to count. Quickly finding cover in an irrigation trench the remaining squads along with the Platoon leader form the INF platoon quickly came up with a plain while the ANA soldiers pushed out into the kill zone forward of the trench. And were immediately cut to shreds and attempted to fall back to the cover of the trench. Only about half made it back severely wounded. Quickly the Engineers rendered aid saving the lives of three ANA Soldiers. Not knowing the whereabouts of the two U.S, ETT members the INF, PLT Leader pushed forward into the kill zone without telling anyone he took with him the medic, forward observer and Radio Telephone Operator (RTO). This was not good for the remaining Soldiers in the trench due to the terrain having a gradual slope as to where you could not see the friendly locations forward of our positions so now, we could not use our 40mm grenade launchers with the fear of fratricide. At that time the speed of the battle was picking up and we were being engaged from almost all sides with heavy machine gun fire and RPG’s coming from a grape hut and these things are like an armored pillbox. Not able to push forward or fall back it was starting to seem as all hope was lost.
An A-10 came on station and offered close air support and provided gun runs, giving a small window of maneuverability. So 2nd Squad took the initiative and pushed forward into the open field to locate the INF lieutenant and to attempt to recover some of the wounded ANA Soldiers stopping to check one ANA Soldier quickly realizing he was dead. It seemed as soon as we stepped out of the trench the firing picked right back up turning to look back seeing the Infantry falling back into the trench and the Engineers continuing forward, we located the INF Platoon Leader taking cover behind a small dirt mound about 100 meters forward of our location. We fought our way to him and took cover there that is when the game plan had to change. We thought we were there to get the INF Lieutenant out of the kill zone but that is when we learned the fate of one of the U.S. ETT members, the Lieutenant thought he was missing but we visually found him on the battlefield and now it became a recovery mission.
Not knowing if he was wounded or KIA, the INF Platoon leader attempted to push forward to him with the Medic, RTO and himself only making it about half way till a Talabani fighter popped up from behind a collate wall and fired an RPG directly at them, nearly hitting them and exploding directly behind 2nd Squads location. 2nd Squad immediately returned fire, covering the 3 men that went forward to attempt to recover the down American and with one 40mm grenade that was accurately fired took out the Taliban fighter that fired the RPG. Once they made it back to the cover of the small dirt berm the decision was made that 2nd Squad would go forward to recover the fallen American Soldier.
A call for close air support was made and an AH-47, came on station and could not identify what unit was in contact due to the AA being on a hill within line of sight of the battle but with no roads to gain access to the fight, but just close enough to add a level of confusion to the close air support. 2nd Squad through a purple smoke grenade to give visual aid to the pilot but as by some unseen unfortunate events the unit still left in the AA also through the purple smoke. With no smoke grenades left 2nd Squad’s M-203, gunner started firing 40mm grenades at the enemy positions and told the RTO to tell the pilot to watch for the impact of the rounds and that is where the enemy is. The AH-47, flew directly overhead in acknowledgment of where we wanted him to engage and with the cover of the close air support 2nd Squad moved out to recover the fallen.
Pushing forward to the fallen American Soldier under the cover of the AH-47 2nd Squad was still receiving small arms fire and returning accurate fire from their M-4’s covering each other as they bound forward. Upon reaching the fallen American ETT they realized he was KIA to a fatal shot to the head. Removing his body armor to make him lighter for the movement back to the original trench that they took cover in when the battle first began which was approximately 200 meters to the rear of their current position. Two men carried the fallen US ETT member Sergeant First Class Michael Fuga, one carried his gear while pulling security and one other member pulled security fighting all the way back to the cover of the trench. Once they secured the fallen American 2nd squad once again exposed themselves to the enemy to recover the fallen ANA Soldiers from the kill zone recovering 4 KIA, ANA Soldiers in total. And then hunkering down in the trench to come up with a new plan to fall back to the AA and the safety of the friendly forces as they were still cut off.
That was when we heard the sound of a vehicle approaching from the rear, it did not sound like a Toyota Hilux most commonly used by the Afghan forces but still put everyone on high alert. When suddenly through the forest of marijuana fields that this battle was being fought in came an HMMWV, it was the operator that 2nd PLT, RCP 3 left at the AA for that vehicle. With no gunner or vehicle commander, he went off road and blazed the trail to our location and gave us our evacuation plan and gave the AA, a route to bring more trucks forward to engage the enemy and take the upper-hand of the battle. After evacuating Michael Fuga back to the AA 2nd Squad returned to the battle escorting elements of 1st Special Forces, they asked to radio the 10th Mountain unit that was engaging the Grape hut and have them pull back so they can call in an air strike on the area the call was made they pulled back to a safe location and the SF JTAC leveled the area ending the 10 hour fight.
At the end of this battle one American Soldier, four Afghan National Army Soldiers were KIA, many ANA soldiers were wounded, and no U.S Soldiers were wounded. We killed an estimated 50 to 60 Taliban fighters and pushed the remaining out of the area into the Canadian blocking positions. The intent was met even though the initial plan did not survive the first contact. The reality of this engagement was to bring us all a little closer to each other as brothers and we will never forget the 9th of September 2006 the day all our lives changed, and we became warriors. For this battle four members from 2nd PLT, RCP 3 would receive valor awards for their actions.
Fraser, M. G. (2018, May 11). Operation Medusa: The Furious Battle That Saved Afghanistan From The Taliban. Retrieved from Soldier of Fortune: https://www.sofmag.com/strike-operation-medusa-the-furious-battle-that-saved-afghanistan-from-the-taliban/