News: TF Duke operation disrupts pre-Ramadan attacks, gains intel
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - “We have known for a while that Musa Khel was a potential support zone for insurgents,” said U.S. Army Maj. Damon Harris, the operations officer for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, when asked about the success of Operation Tofan I, the latest in a series of large scale operations conducted by the brigade based out of Fort Knox, Ky.
According to Harris, a Leland, Miss., native, the overall mission of Tofan I was to disrupt insurgent safe havens in the Musa Khel region of Khowst province, improve the ability for the government to reach the people there and gather intelligence for planning future operations.
Since January, TF Duke, which is responsible for coalition forces’ operations in Khowst and Paktya provinces, conducted several major operations alongside their Afghan National Security Force partners designed to shape the battlefield by eliminating insurgent safe havens, targeting insurgent weapons caches, securing key routes and clearing insurgents from populated areas. Tofan I largely confirmed what Duke’s commander, U.S. Army Col. Chris Toner, suspected.
“We had to do it. We had to get in there and see,” said the Topeka, Kan., native, referring to the suspected enemy support zones in Musa Khel, a sparsely populated, mountainous area located in the center of the TF Duke operational area. “[What the operation] did was allow us to confirm or deny our enemy template…where we think these support zones are and what they consist of. Now we’ve narrowed down the hunt, so to speak, and know where we are going to go next.”
The operation, which began on July 27, originally called for all units to pull out before Aug 1, the first full day of Ramadan.
For one unit, however, the operation didn’t end as planned.
“We were directed to stay, search out and engage the indirect fire teams that were engaging us the entire time,” said U.S. Army Capt. Josh Wiles, the self-proclaimed “army-brat” from Bradenton, Fla., who commands Company D, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., TF Duke.
He was referring to what he described as the consistent and incredibly accurate insurgent mortar and rocket teams that rained down explosive fire against the Musa Khel District Center during the operation.
“Every one of their rounds was effective; they had our location locked in,” said Wiles.
The effectiveness of these indirect fire teams compelled Toner to cancel a pre-planned shura, scheduled at the Musa Khel D.C. between Khowst Provincial Gov. Abdul Jabbar Naeemi, and local elders toward the end of the operation’s original timeline.
“I expected enemy contact, but did not expect a mortar attack, and certainly did not expect mortar attacks in those numbers,” said Toner, adding the conditions were too dangerous for the governor and local officials to hold the meeting.
He continued, citing the boldness of the insurgents who did not stop firing despite the presence of air weapons teams, or teams of attack helicopters.
“I certainly didn’t expect them to continue firing mortars with AWT overhead.”
He said normally indirect fire teams as accurate as those in Musa Khel are normally found near coalition bases.
“I would say it’s a good assumption to make that having a mortar team of that quality in that remote of an area indicates to me that they are protecting something,” said Toner.
Wiles and his Company D “Dragoons” took their orders and began an intense search of the area to locate enemy fire teams.
“At times it was rough,” said Wiles, referring to the intensely steep terrain that his soldiers had to negotiate in the effort to locate the menace at elevations above 8,000 feet.
“This was a different situation than my soldiers are used to,” said Wiles, whose primary area of responsibility is in Tani District, a relatively calm area in southern Khowst where his focus is mostly on supporting good governance and training Afghan security forces.
After 14 days searching the hillsides, the Dragoons ultimately did not locate the mortar and rocket teams and returned to their home base at Combat Out Post Narizah Aug. 7.
All was not lost during the extended mission, however.
“While patrolling we visited three villages that reportedly had never seen Americans before this operation,” said Wiles. “Musa Khel is my responsibility now, and me and my soldiers will be back regularly to promote [good] governance and extend the reach of the brigade to an area we need and want to influence,” he said.
For Toner, the overall results of Tofan I are extremely positive.
“It’s clear to me, because we got out to these support zones and these areas where he (the insurgents) stages his attacks, he immediately had to respond to us and it prevented him from doing what he wanted to do. I disrupted his pre-Ramadan attack cycle, no doubt in my mind,” said Toner.
“To me that’s success.”