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    New Jersey Cavalry defeats al-Shabaab attack

    New Jersey Cavalry defeats Al-Shabaab attack

    Courtesy Photo | A U.S. Army Soldier with Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, New...... read more read more



    Story by Mark Olsen  

    New Jersey National Guard   

    The attack had failed before it even began.
    It was Sept. 30, 2019, at Baledogle Military Airfield in the Federal Republic of Somalia. Prior to the explosion, New Jersey Army National Guard Soldiers with Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, had been preparing a convoy to meet the Somali police chief and other leaders in a town 25 miles from the base. The 102nd was part of the New Jersey Army National Guard’s Task Force Warrior deployment in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa.
    “We hadn’t even got into our vehicles when the VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device) went off,” said Lt. Col. Richard Karcher, commander, Task Force Warrior, New Jersey Army National Guard.
    This meeting was part of Capt. London Nagai, commander, C Troop, and 1st Sgt. Paul Greenberg’s plan to work with people in the communities surrounding the airfield. During their visits, the Soldiers brought a new well pump to a village and soccer balls for the children. The 102nd Cavalry was there to support the Somali people in addition to performing their mission.
    “Nagai had devised a plan to expand their defensive posture outside the fence line,” said Karcher. “He was doing stuff right that you don’t see lieutenant colonels or colonels doing correctly.”
    Before deploying to Baledogle, C Troop had approximately 70 soldiers. Because of their mission, Soldiers including fire direction officers from the 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery Regiment were assigned to the unit. In addition, a mortar platoon from the 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry was added. By the time the 102nd arrived in Somalia, the unit’s strength had swelled to more than 160 Soldiers.
    They would play a crucial role during a terrorist attack.
    The airfield, located 60 miles northwest of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, was built by the Soviet Union in the 1970s for use by both the Somali Air Force and the Russians. Today, it is home to multi-national forces combatting al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda’s Somali-based branch. New Jersey Army National Guard Soldiers were assigned there to provide base security and force protection. They manned towers, entry control points, mortars; and stood by with a quick reaction force.
    And they began practicing.
    “We would rehearse at all hours of the day and with live rounds,” said Nagai. “Charlie Troop exercised and refined this scenario, along with others, over and over again.”
    There was no question the base would be attacked: Al-Shabaab militants had been probing the base perimeter to locate defensive positions and get a picture of where and how the American Soldiers would respond.
    “The hardest part for me was having to tell Soldiers we couldn't fully engage the enemy when they would use recon by fire or other aggressive tactics,” said Nagai. “We didn't want to show them how we would respond.”
    Intelligence was telling them that when al-Shabaab actually attacked, it would be big.
    Sept. 30, 2019’s attack exceeded their predictions.
    The first explosive-filled truck had driven toward the airfield, but it had exploded prematurely.
    “We saw a plume of smoke to the northwest of the airfield,” said Karcher. He said later that he knew it wasn’t mortars: “It felt like artillery.”
    As the attack began, a United States Air Force plane was preparing to take off and a United Nations flight was inbound. Additionally, there were more than 50 construction workers repairing the runway.
    Clearing the runway became a top priority.
    Staff Sgts. Charlie Connolly, Marvin Monroig, and Steven Plumer moved the civilian workers to safety, while 1st Lt. Robert Angelini, Staff Sgt. Wydell Register, and Sgt. Pablo Enriquez used their vehicle to provide additional cover. The Air Force plane was ordered to immediately take off and the UN aircraft was diverted.
    “I ran to the operations center and Nagai was already maneuvering Charlie Troop toward the explosion site,” said Karcher. “He had the vehicles that were originally part of the convoy going to the airfield; he started moving additional personnel to the towers, which covered the approach to the airfield, and he closed all the entry control points. Snipers were also posted base-wide.”
    Charlie Troop’s quick reaction force headed toward the airfield, while the mortar teams headed to their mortar pits. They had hoped for the best, but more importantly, had prepared for the worst – which was now in progress.
    The 102nd Cavalry Squadron’s operations team used cameras on a tethered aerostat to observe the battlefield. With this real-time information, they were able to respond immediately to any threat.
    “Our base defense platoon immediately started to fill all the fighting positions along the base perimeter,” said Nagai. “The key was not engaging with the enemy until they were committed to utilizing a specific route that would ultimately be a fatal choice for them.”
    During all their practice, the New Jersey Soldiers had planned for the route al-Shabaab was taking. The advantage would be theirs and not al-Shabaab’s.
    “Over time, using covert and overt means, we forced the enemy to attack in the way we wanted and, in a place, most advantageous to us,” said Nagai.
    Ten minutes later, a second truck broke off from a convoy carrying construction materials. The truck had masked its approach by using the convoy as camouflage. The driver was heading directly toward the airfield’s fence line.
    “We saw the truck’s windows were up-armored,” said Karcher. The armor was designed to enable the driver to get close to his target before detonating the truck
    Sgts. Robert Keil and David Kerwien, Cpl. John Hackett and Spc. Tyler Chochran began firing on the approaching truck.
    One month earlier, Nagai and his team had an engineer platoon dig a wide, deep ditch around the airfield. Any vehicle smaller than a tank would get stuck in the ditch before it got to the fence line.
    Sure enough, the engineers’ work paid off: the enemy truck drove into the ditch.
    As C Troop’s weapons fire tore into the truck, the driver attempted to back out, but with no luck. Finally, it stopped moving. “The driver was definitely dead,” said Karcher.
    Five minutes later, al-Shabaab remotely detonated the truck.
    The explosion was larger than the first and the concussion rocked the base. It blew a hole in the fence line 200 yards wide. If the construction workers had not been moved, they would have been killed or injured.
    Immediately, Sgts. Robert Karch and Christopher Charles led medics to move the injured away from the battle.
    “The explosion was massive,” said Karcher. “On the other side of the base, there was an old Russian hanger that had reinforced doors – those doors were concaved in because of the explosion.”
    The crater was 20 feet deep, and shrapnel was found base-wide. The Federal Bureau of Investigation later examined samples and estimated that between 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of explosive had been used.
    “At the time, it was the largest VBIED used on the African continent,” said Karcher.
    Ten minutes later, another truck approached the hole in the fence line and the 102nd immediately opened fire. The driver stopped at the crater left by the VBIED. A tarp covering the truck bed flew up and approximately 12 uniformed al-Shabaab militants jumped out carrying rocket propelled grenades, machine guns, assault rifles, hand grenades, and ammunition.
    “They came out looking very surprised,” said Karcher. “The leader looked really pissed off.”
    They had assumed they would be on the base. Instead, they were outside the fence line.
    “They were completely unorganized; they weren’t taking cover,” said Karcher.
    The sniper team of Staff Sgt. Nicholas Swanson and Sgt. James O'Brien immediately began firing on the militants.
    While all this was going on, Karcher and Nagai were able to see the militant leader yelling into his cell phone.
    Five minutes later, half the militants were dead, while the rest had taken cover behind the berms and began firing their RPGs.
    “At that point, Capt. Nagai looked at me and said: ‘we need to use our mortar systems,’” said Karcher.
    Clearance was given and Sgt. 1st Class James Kube and Staff Sgt. Michael Ryno initiated mortar fire while under heavy fire. Simultaneously, Sgt. 1st Class Zak Goeb and Sgt. Oleksander Mishyn’s fire support team called in multiple danger close indirect fire missions while forward observer Spc. Naman Singh called for fire while under direct contact.
    “The mortar crews had pre-determined points already registered,” said Karcher. “They started firing and that was it.”
    After the cease fire was called, Karcher’s team looked at the truck using the television cameras. They couldn’t see what was in the back, but after consulting with the United States Marine Corps unit assigned to the base, they determined that it was another VBIED, which was subsequently destroyed by an Air Force remotely piloted aircraft.
    In less than an hour, it was over. None of the 102nd had been injured and the al-Shabaab unit had been wiped out. Not since World War II had a New Jersey unit been involved in a combined arms battle.
    “The success on that day was not due to luck or heroism,” said Nagai. “It was due to disciplined Soldiers executing a well-rehearsed battle drill, that was exercised and refined over and over again.”
    The day after the attack, al-Shabaab posted a letter and a video claiming that the militants were successful, and that they had gained access to the base, destroyed aircraft, and killed many Americans and Israelis.
    "This attack, though ineffective, demonstrates the direct threat al-Shabaab poses to Americans, our allies, and interests in the region," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, director of operations, U.S. Africa Command.
    “There is no question that if it hadn’t been for Charlie Troop, al-Shabaab would have destroyed the aircraft and killed as many people as possible,” said Karcher.
    Three months later, a similar attack took place at a base in Kenya. Al-Shabaab was successful in getting a VBIED on the runway where it destroyed two aircraft and killed three people, including an American Soldier.
    In the days after the battle, the New Jersey Soldiers received, depending on their branch, the Combat Infantry Badge, the Combat Action Badge, or the Combat Medical Badge for their involvement in the largest battle against al-Shabaab militants since Operation Gothic Serpent in 1993.
    Al-Shabaab attempted no follow-up attacks. Seventy-six days later, the 102nd Cavalry Squadron returned home on Dec. 12, 2019.
    In a ceremony at home station, Westfield National Guard Armory, Westfield, New Jersey, Aug. 8, 2020, the Charlie Troop Soldiers received awards ranging from Bronze Stars to Army Commendation Medals with Combat device for their actions during the attack.
    “The discipline and bravery of the Soldiers was something I will never be able to fully explain and something I am sure I will never see again,” said Nagai.



    Date Taken: 12.27.2022
    Date Posted: 12.27.2022 14:17
    Story ID: 435922

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