Afghan tunnels prove tough to crack
U.S. and Afghan troops try to destroy possible Taliban hide-outs
By MONTE MORIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2007
SORKHAGAN, Afghanistan — A group of Afghan National Army soldiers and U.S. paratroops stumbled upon a network of mountain tunnels Sunday and discovered just how tough the guerrilla passageways are.
The patrol, part of a larger operation conducted by the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, discovered the network of aging tunnels after hoofing their way to a tiny village in the remote mountains of Zabul province.
The journey took the soldiers past lush, mud-walled marijuana fields and terrain known for heavy Taliban activity. Among other clues to the enemy’s presence were a discarded mortar shell and an abandoned SUV.
People told Capt. Neil Penttila, 26, of Woodbridge, Va., that Taliban fighters would come to their village periodically, demanding food and water and threatening to beat them if they did not deliver.
The tunnels bored into the mountainside beneath their village had been made by the mujahedeen during their war with the Soviets decades ago, the villagers said.
They told Penttila, an embedded tactical trainer for the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps of the Afghan National Army, that Taliban fighters did not use the tunnels. The villagers said they used the passageways to store hay for their goats.
After searching the several tunnel entrances, soldiers discovered that one tunnel in particular extended hundreds of yards, and was not filled with hay. Worried that it might be used by Taliban guerrillas, the soldiers radioed for permission to destroy the tunnel.
They got it, but it did them little good.
After detonating four blocks of C-4 explosives and one hand grenade in the passageway, the tunnel was far from destroyed. When the smoke finally cleared, the soldiers found that the tunnel looked much the same as it had before they set out to destroy it.
Without any more explosives, the soldiers had to call it a day.
“It’s moments like this that you have to laugh,” Penttila said. “We gave it everything we had and didn’t make a dent. Now we have to go back and tell the villagers, ‘OK, you can have your cave back.’”