U.S. Apache attack helicopters virtually wiped out a platoon-size insurgent force that was assaulting a combat outpost in eastern Afghanistan’s Khost province Sept. 21, according to coalition spokesmen.
But while the AH-64 Apaches were the agents of the insurgents’ destruction, a combination of at least one unmanned aerial vehicle and ground-based surveillance cameras was the key to identifying the insurgents before they were able to launch their attack, according to an account of the battle published online by Task Force Rakkasan, which is built around the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). The unmanned aerial vehicle was “an organic brigade UAV system,” said TF Rakkasan spokesman Maj. S. Justin Platt.
Coalition forces suffered no casualties during the multi-hour nighttime battle at Combat Outpost Spera, said Platt. Nor were there any reports of civilian casualties.
COP Spera, located about 10 miles from the Pakistan border, is manned by soldiers from TF Rakkasan’s A Troop, 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment, as well as Afghan forces. Platt declined to be more specific about the size of the coalition force at Spera, but according to an April story by the Associated Press, “the outpost is regularly manned by one U.S. platoon of 20-30 troops serving 10-week rotations along with an Afghan National Army company about 100-strong.”
The battle began when the cameras detected the insurgents “preparing to open fire with a mixture of small arms and rocket propelled grenades,” the TF Rakkasan account said. Alerted to the presence of the insurgents, soldiers at the COP opened fire on them, suppressing the attack. The sensors have given the troops at the COP an increased ability to spot insurgents, which “was integral to the successful defense of the COP,” the TF Rakkasan account quoted 1st Lt. Steve Thomas, leader of 1-33 Cav’s 3rd Platoon, A Troop, as saying.
Maj. Steven Bower, TF Rakkasan’s intelligence officer, was similarly enthusiastic in his comments about the surveillance gear. “Our use of technology to place the enemy under detailed surveillance combined with sources within his network allows us to fuse that information at critical times,” he said. “The assets available for that engagement allowed us to maintain constant surveillance on the enemy. They were unable to hide.”
The insurgents and the troops at the COP traded fire until Apaches from 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade arrived on the scene and killed the insurgents, according to the official accounts. “This was a protracted engagement lasting several hours until all attacking forces were positively identified and subsequently killed,” Platt said.
There is no information to suggest that any of the insurgent force, which was “about a platoon size – estimated to be around 30 fighters” – managed to escape, he said. The TF Rakkasan account of the battle said it resulted in the death of “at least 27 insurgents.”
The estimate of the number of insurgents killed was based on three methods of observation, according to Platt: “aerial observation (pilots and gun tapes), continuous UAV surveillance, and by a ground patrol.”
COP Spera, named after the district in which it’s located, was established about three years ago, said Maj. Pat Seiber, spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division and Regional Command – East. Although insurgents attack COP Spera periodically, “reporting has not tied this specific incident to a pattern of attacks,” Platt said.
While Platt had no information on which insurgent group conducted the attack, he said the Haqqani Network was responsible for many of the attacks in that part of Khost.
Gen. Raz Mohammed Horya Khil, identified by Associated Press as a senior Afghan National Army commander in Khost, said the attack originated on the Pakistan side of the border.