'I could feel the rocks spraying in my face'
It started with a group of Afghan soldiers inviting their U.S. military mentors to tea and ended with one of the Afghans dead on the ground, 18 bullets lodged in the wall and U.S. troops with rifles trained on their would-be allies.
Soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment had just started a yearlong deployment to Maiwand district in southern Afghanistan and members of the regiment’s 3rd Squadron had been tasked with mentoring Afghan soldiers during a mission to secure a stretch of highway west of Kandahar.
The soldiers, on only their second mission, arrived at the Afghan National Army compound in Hutal, the largest town in Maiwand, on July 9 and introduced themselves to the Afghan personnel they’d be working with.
“The ANA commander wanted us to drink chai (tea) with him,” 1st Lt. Connor Lawrence, a platoon leader, said. “He insisted on chai.”
Lawrence, several noncommissioned officers and two interpreters sat down at a table to drink tea with their hosts. But as the drinks were poured, the Afghans moved away from the table.
“This was awkward,” Staff Sgt. Diess Solon said. “I’d been offered chai many times [on past deployments] and there wasn’t one time where they offered us chai and didn’t drink it with us.”
Suddenly an Afghan soldier came around the corner, pointed his AK-47 at the Americans and started shooting.
Some of the Americans didn’t know what was happening and thought the badly placed shots whizzing over their heads might have been fired accidentally or even coming from outside the wire.
Sgt. Michael Adams, 26, a veteran of combat in Baghdad, grasped the situation immediately.
“As soon as I saw he was shooting at us, he was no longer ANA,” he said.
Adams raised his rifle but it malfunctioned. Unconsciously, he ejected the dud round and dropped to the ground while firing four well-aimed bullets into his target.
The wounded insurgent went down but kept fighting.
“He rolled onto his right hand side and fired a long burst that hit about a foot from me,” Adams said. “I thought I was dead. I was completely exposed lying on the ground with a guy shooting at me about 10 feet away.”
Several bullets passed within inches of the Adams’ head.
“The impacts were all around me,” he said. “I could feel the rocks spraying in my face.”
Adams told himself that he was a dead man but he didn’t want his comrades to meet the same fate. He leveled his rifle and pumped four more bullets into the Afghan soldier, ending the fight.
By that stage, it was clear that the tea party was not going to resume. Eighteen bullets had lodged in the wall behind the table where the U.S. soldiers sat. They didn’t know where another attack might come from.
“One [Afghan] guy was saying: ‘It’s OK. Let’s continue the mission,’ ” Solon said.
But the Americans had decided that was enough action for one day.
“We consolidated back to the vehicles and moved out and kept our barrels on them,” said Staff Sgt. David Fordyce.
A subsequent investigation turned up al-Qaida videos on the dead Afghan soldier’s cell phone and evidence that he’d recently been to Pakistan, Lawrence said.
“The guy that shot had just showed up at the compound,” he said. “There were four brand new guys and I’m guessing those four guys had infiltrated the ANA.”
None of the other ANA soldiers was detained as a result of the incident but some of the Americans think it was part of a Taliban campaign to kill international personnel working with the ANA.
“This was happening all over Afghanistan,” Fordyce said. “A few days later, it happened in Helmand. They had planted some guys in there. They said: ‘OK, this is the week. We will go and try to kill some dudes and try to hurt the relationship between American forces and the ANA.’ ”
For his quick reaction and accurate fire, Adams was awarded the Bronze Star with “V.”