February Firefight at Mizan

April 25, 2007  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Weblog

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.

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.

"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."

"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.

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

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.