Bomb makers caught in the act
DILAY KALAY, Afghanistan — Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment killed one Taliban roadside bomb maker and captured another during a chance encounter shortly after midnight Thursday morning.
The company was on a mission to track down area Taliban leaders who were believed to be in a nearby town.
The Vicenza, Italy-based soldiers were in the final day of Operation Surri Sweep, a week-long operation designed to break up roadside bomb-making cells working in the roughly 2,500-square kilometer Surri District of the Zabol Province.
The soldiers were moving to their objective for the early morning assault when the convoy’s lead Humvee driver, Spc. Elliott Alcantara, saw what he thought were piles of large stones on the bank.
“It looked like two rock formations on the right-hand side,” he said shortly after the chase. “Then one of them starts to move a little bit. So, I gunned it up the hill a little bit and then saw an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] across the [one man’s] back.”
The “stones” turned out to be two men on a motorcycle. They were part of a four-man observation team sitting on two motorcycles at the top of a high river bank near the village of Dilay Kalay, about 20 miles south of Qalat.
Alcantara said that he thought at least one of the groups of men was going to fire an RPG at his Humvee, but they didn’t.
“The dudes … they started to take off as soon as they saw us,” he said. “He was 15 meters in front of me, on top of a hill.”
Alcantara’s Humvee and its crew chased the two motorcycles through the flat valley brightly lit by a full moon.
“… I’m in hot pursuit, over,” radioed 1st Lt. Ari Martyn, 3rd Platoon leader, as they began their chase.
Martyn told Alcantara, who was focused on a motorcycle in front of him, “Three o’clock!” and the driver looked in that direction to see another bike speeding away.
“I identify a weapon,” Martyn radioed moments later as they closed on the bike.
Alcantara gained on the motorcycle and its two riders because of the relatively flat terrain. A small hill, sloping downwards, gave them an added advantage.
“I got up right behind him,” he said. “The [platoon leader] fired a shot right as I was up next to him with my front right tire. I cut left, then hit him with my right [side] and ran him over.”
Almost immediately there was a large flash. “The RPG blew up right next to us,” Alcantara said. The explosion caused minor damage to the Humvee.
Soldiers found the overturned motorcycle and, a few feet away, the RPG launcher and another RPG round. The two riders lay crumpled, one in front of the motorcycle and the other behind.
One man lost his arm in the crash and died minutes after.
Company medic Cpl. Aaron Medina began working on the other rider, who had a severe head wound.
Medina treated the man, lightly bandaging his wound. Later, he and another soldier walked the man, who by then was handcuffed and blindfolded, to a medevac helicopter for further treatment at Kandahar Airfield.
As Medina worked on the lone surviving rider, 1st Sgt. Patrick Fatuesi picked through a bag one of the men was carrying. Inside were all the components necessary to build roadside bombs, including Christmas lights for wiring, tiny metal fragments for shrapnel and two baseball-sized lumps of white material believed to be explosives taken from an anti-tank mine.
This accidental success, Wright said, fit right in with Surri Sweep’s objective of disrupting the roadside bomb cells.
“We captured a lot,” he explained, “IED-making material, a [handheld two-way radio], two RPG rounds and an AK-47. And,” he said about U.S. and Afghan police forces, “nobody was hurt.”