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Sgt. Shane Nunes, 23, of Stockton, Calif., left, asks his command for permission to destroy an old Mujahideen tunnel in the remote mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently as medic and Spc. Evan Derveloy, 26, of New Orleans, looks on.

Sgt. Shane Nunes, 23, of Stockton, Calif., left, asks his command for permission to destroy an old Mujahideen tunnel in the remote mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently as medic and Spc. Evan Derveloy, 26, of New Orleans, looks on. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Sgt. Shane Nunes, 23, of Stockton, Calif., left, asks his command for permission to destroy an old Mujahideen tunnel in the remote mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently as medic and Spc. Evan Derveloy, 26, of New Orleans, looks on.

Sgt. Shane Nunes, 23, of Stockton, Calif., left, asks his command for permission to destroy an old Mujahideen tunnel in the remote mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently as medic and Spc. Evan Derveloy, 26, of New Orleans, looks on. (Monte Morin / S&S)

A joint Afghan National Army and U.S. paratroop patrol approaches a remote mountain village in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently.

A joint Afghan National Army and U.S. paratroop patrol approaches a remote mountain village in Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Joseph Moser, 23, of Highland, Ind., questions locals about a system of caves beneath their village in the mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Moser, 23, of Highland, Ind., questions locals about a system of caves beneath their village in the mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Sgt. Shane Nunes, 23, of Stockton, Calif., exits a mountain tunnel in Zabul Province, Afghanistan recently.

Sgt. Shane Nunes, 23, of Stockton, Calif., exits a mountain tunnel in Zabul Province, Afghanistan recently. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Joseph Moser, 23, of Highland, Ind., shines a flashlight at the walls of a tunnel in the mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently while searching for a place to set explosives and destroy the passageway.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Moser, 23, of Highland, Ind., shines a flashlight at the walls of a tunnel in the mountains of Zabul Province, Afghanistan, recently while searching for a place to set explosives and destroy the passageway. (Monte Morin / S&S)

Mideast edition, Wednesday, 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.’”


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