Page: Richard's Blog
Feb 19th, 2012 by Richard Lowry
An unbalanced world

Sgt Oscar Canon

An active-duty Marine major who is currently serving in Afghanistan just sent me this message. It speaks for itself:

Where is the outrage with our media and with the consumers of that media? Where are the priorities of our countrymen? A hero dies and receives not one ounce of media coverage. A drug addict dies, and flags are lowered to half-mast while receiving untold amounts of media attention. Maybe this is the way it is supposed to be.

On Valentine’s Day, former Staff Sergeant (SSgt) Oscar Canon, a Marine that I had the honor of serving with in 2004 when I commanded Company K, 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, succumbed to a staff infection. That staff infection appears to have been directly tied to the 87 surgeries on his leg that stem from injuries he sustained on September 23, 2004.

I first met then Corporal (Cpl) Canon immediately after taking command of Company K in June 2004. He was impressive, competent, hard working, and eager. He absolutely loved his wife Jennie and talked about her all the time. During the initial invasion of Iraq he was referred to as “Contact Canon” because he was continuously engaged with the enemy. When we first met he was the mortar section leader in our company and had a competently trained section–not bad for an organization that is supposed to be led by a much more senior Marine wearing the rank of Staff Sergeant. During our final work ups prior to deployment a Sergeant reported in to take charge of the section, so Cpl Canon stepped down and filled the role of Gunner/Mortar Squad Leader. On Sep 23, 2004, on our last day of relief in place w/ Company E, 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, driving down the same road that E 2/1 had driven down countless times, less than 500 meters and in plain view of the observation post along Main Supply Route Mobile where Cpl Canon was to stand duty, the 7-ton in which Cpl Canon was riding struck an improvised explosive device (IED), wounding Cpl Canon and others. The IED initiated a complex ambush. Many Marines fought with valor to break the enemy’s will and save Cpl Canon.

Cpl Canon was medevac’d back to the States. He and his wife divorced and he underwent 87 surgeries on his wounded leg in an attempt to recover to normalcy. I know at one point he ran Marine Corps Marathon with a senior officer while he was still in uniform. I just learned that Canon donated his kidneys and his liver to 3 people and will be buried in Arlington in a few weeks.

Attached is a link to an NPR article written about Canon in 2005, when he had a mere 33 surgeries under his belt.

Through it all one must wonder why Canon and others like him receive no attention and why the consumers of media care about drug addicts instead of heroes that gave all defending their country. Where is the outrage?


Richard S. Lowry has been writing about the Marine Corps for many years. To learn more about his writing and how to purchase his latest book, visit

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Aug 31st, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Kandahar is not Fallujah
Sgt Jason Carter - DVIDS

Sgt Jason Carter - DVIDS

While Kandahar and Fallujah are both located at ancient crossroads of civilization, the cities could not be more different. Fallujah lies in the heart of the ancient Assyrian civilization while Kandahar has always skirted two ancient empires. Fallujah is made up of a compact, densely-populated middle-eastern urban center while Kandahar is spread out over many thousands of acres with a central urban center and hundreds of outlying villages, nestled in some of the most rugged terrain on the face of the earth.

If you think it was difficult isolating the Fallujah battlefield, it was easy compared to the challenges of cordoning Kandahar. Clearing Kandahar will be a momentous task. The International Security Assistance Forces and the Afghan Army and Police will have a very difficult time clearing and holding Kandahar.

In the fall of 2004, Coalition Forces isolated Fallujah and evacuated most of the population before sweeping into the city to clear every room of every house. Then, they cordoned the city and only let residents back in. ISAF has no hope of isolating the battlefield of Kandahar, we will have to work to clear the area and we will have to work among the population. The Taliban know this truth. They will continue to use the people as shields and they will try to illicit violence that will cause civilian deaths.

The coming operation to wrest control of Kandahar and its surrounding districts will be tricky. I expect to see a sudden increase in ISAF military presence, followed by an inkwell strategy of expanding the ISAF security zone. There will be no massive sweep through the area like the fight to free Fallujah. Instead, the Taliban will wake up one morning and American, Afghan and Canadian soldiers will be on their doorstep. And, once there – they will stay.

Taliban leaders will be targeted; rounded up or killed. The rank and file Taliban soldiers will be given a choice – fight and die or surrender and re-integrate into the Afghan society. Once the streets of Kandahar City, Zhari, Panjwaii, and Arghandab are secure, the real work will begin.

The people of southern Afghanistan have lived through almost continuing struggles for control of their land for centuries. The only thing that the tribal elders know is struggle and maneuvering for power. They have learned that when their schemes fail, violence rules supreme. It will take more than a generation to change this mindset. Once there is a modicum of security in Kandahar, ISAF will help to set the people on the right track to peace and prosperity. Attempting to impose the Federal government in Kabul on the people of southern Afghanistan will not work. We must build a brand new Afghanistan from the ground up, not from the top-down. Let us all pray that General Petraeus succeeds.


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Feb 16th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
The real fight in Helmand – Tom Clancy couldn’t have done it better

In a scene straight from a Tom Clancy movie, Afghan international forces chased down several Taliban fighters as they attempted to escape the Allied onslaught. Here is an official press release I recieved this morning. Operation Moshtarak is no tangled urban fight like Fallujah, it is an open-spaces hunt for the bad guys:

Marines in Helmand

Marines in Helmand

For Immediate Release

IJC Operational Update Feb. 16

KABUL, Afghanistan (Feb. 16) – An Afghan-international force
interdicted three vehicles in three separate engagements, resulting in
more than 10 militants killed while pursuing a Taliban commander in
Helmand province yesterday.
The joint force was sent to a rural area in the Washir district
after intelligence information revealed militants were in several
One of the vehicles drove away and attempted to elude the
assault force.  As the combined force attempted to stop it, weapons were
pointed at the coalition force through the open car windows. The
coalition force engaged and killed the militants who were in the car.
After the fire fight the ammunition inside the vehicle continued to
detonate, causing the assault force to pull back to a safe distance.
Another associated vehicle, with one occupant, drove out of the
village, with the coalition force in pursuit.  The car stopped and the
occupant drew an automatic rifle and attempted to fire on the force who
then killed the militant.
A third vehicle was located, and armed militants got out of both
sides of the vehicle and attempted to engage the pursuing force.  The
joint force returned fire killing several militants.
As the assault force engaged the third car it received machine
gun and rocket propelled grenade fire from the nearby village.  As the
fire fight continued militants from the village tried to approach the
burning vehicle several times, but were driven off as explosives and
ammunition inside the vehicle continued to detonate.
To reduce the possibility of civilian casualties in the village
the combined force then broke off the fight and returned to base.



SFC(OR-7) Kevin P Bell
IJC Public Affairs Office
Media Operations NCO

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Feb 13th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Vertical envelopment – leapfrogging into Marjah

AfghanistanMore than 10,000 Afghan, British and American soldiers, along with United States Marines attacked into Afghanistan’s poppy-growing heartland in the predawn darkness Saturday morning.

Third Battalion, 6th Marines leapt into combat, hopping over the maze of canals and minefields in 60 helicopters of  Marine Air Group 40 and Task Force Pegasus, the Combat Aviation Brigade of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. The Marines were on the outskirts of Marjah’s bazaar before enemy fighters could get their pants on.

Major General Nick Carter, NATO commander for Southern Afghanistan said this about the initial assault in an interview early on Saturday: “The amount of aviation that was used and the way it was used, the number of objectives, and the extent to which the enemy was dislocated in terms of that overwhelming arrival between 2AM and dawn this morning was impressive, to say the least.”

More Marines and soldiers advanced on the ground closing the vice on the enemy. The advance on the ground was slow through heavily mined poppy fields. The danger to our men will not be from enemy counterattacks. The danger in this operation will come from hidden IEDs and home-made bombs.

On the eve of the attack, Taliban leaders, knowing that their options were slowly being eliminated, issued orders for civilians to remain in Marjah. Many families defied these orders, hopped in cars and trucks when the Taliban commanders were not watching and fled.

“We were not allowed to come here. We haven’t brought any of our belongings; we just tried to get ourselves out,” said Bibi Gul, an elderly woman who arrived in nearby Lashkar Gah with three of her sons along with hundreds of other fleeing civilians. The Afghan government is prepared to shelter 7,000 families in nearby towns.

With their hostages gone and Marines on the horizon, most of the Taliban will attempt to slip away to fight another day. They will scatter to the winds and hope that their hidden explosives will inflict many allied casualties. These cowards will run.

And, with every Taliban coward that flees the fight, the level of violence will be decreased; thus reducing the chance of civilian casualties. General McChrystal is brilliant. If the enemy stands and fights – he will surely die. If he runs, he will lose his source of income and control over the people of Helmand.

The kinetic portion of Operation Moshtarak will be violent and fast. The Taliban will be quickly ejected from Central Helmand. But, Operation Moshtarak will last quite some time. Provisional Reconstruction teams, the Afghan National Army and Afghan Police will saturate the area with the sole intent of improving the lives of the people of Helmand. And, they will stay. The Taliban will not be allowed to return.

Much like a cancer patient, surgery is often traumatic and dangerous, but months of chemo-therapy are necessary to completely remove the malignancy. In the coming months, the Afghan government, NATO and the United States will work tirelessly to improve the lives of the people of this agricultural area. If they are successful, the Taliban will become irrelevant.

Without a population to support their cause, they will be defeated.

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Feb 9th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
Preparations for Operation Moshtarak continue

There has been much talk about the coming fight in Helmand Province. Many have likened it to the second battle of Fallujah.  Many others are claiming that the civilian population is fleeing the area. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fallujah was the largest urban battle for US Marines since Hue City, Vietnam. This fight will be a rural battle, with Marines slogging through mud and open fields and the Marines are asking the people to stay in their homes, out of the line of fire. Here is an official PRESS RELEASE that I just received which talks about the status of the local population in Central Helmand Province and how the Marines are dealing with them:

Photo by - Lance Cpl. James W. Clark

Photo by - Lance Cpl. James W. Clark

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Feb. 9) – In anticipation of
operations in central Helmand, a variety of organizations and
individuals, including combined force commanders, have been paying close
attention to civilian movements. Commanders in the area are reporting no
significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the
last month.

Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area,
the facts on the ground do not support these assertions.
Current estimates are that fewer than 200 families have left
Nad-e Ali since Operation Moshtarak was announced. Combined force
commanders are encouraging civilians to remain in the safety of their
homes. Every effort is being made to ensure minimum disruption to the
residents during the operation.

The goal of Moshtarak – a Dari word for “together” – is for the
combined force (ANA, ANP, ISAF and the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction
Team) to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
in asserting its authority in central Helmand, thereby demonstrating the
Afghan government’s commitment to the people living there.

The operation is being conducted in line with the wishes of the
Afghan government in Helmand. The security forces involved are serving
side-by-side, representing partnership in strength.

MSgt. Jeff Loftin

Visit to leran more about the battle for fallujah.

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Jan 12th, 2010 by Richard Lowry
We are the Good Guys

SEALs TridentIn the face of brutal treatment from a vicious enemy, our American leadership has chosen to undermine our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Their “Monday morning quarterbacking” impedes our young men and women’s efforts in fighting the war on terror. We MUST remember that we are the “good guys.” We should do everything in our power to act morally and with compassion and conscience. And, I believe we do.

Colonel Michael Shupp told his Marines on the eve of the attack into Fallujah: “Take the fight to the enemy, but fight with firmness, dignity, and respect. You are warriors, not criminals.”[1]

Of course, there will always be a small few who will not act as we would want them to in combat. These people should be dealt with and held responsible for their actions. BUT, there should not be a national “witch hunt,” publicized to the world. Our government and media play into our enemy’s hands when they inflate these few indiscretions.

Take for example, the Abu Ghraib scandal. Stop and compare our actions to Saddam’s henchmen in that same prison. During Saddam’s reign of terror, Abu Ghraib prisoners were hung from meat hooks, dunked in boiling oil and REALLY tortured. Where was the media contempt then? Was the world’s outrage proportional to what American guards did to their victims? Were any really hurt? Were they disfigured? And, were the actions of a few sick people sanctioned by the leadership? No, no, and no. At worst, the prison leadership was guilty of a lack of supervision and control.

Let’s move on. Did the CIA interrogators break bones, draw blood or deliberately kill anyone. Again, no.  They just scared the shit out of one or two murderers. Is what they did right? That is not for me to decide. But, I can tell you that the prisoners that were waterboarded are alive and well today. They get better medical attention than any of us will get under a government medical plan. They are fed and clothed and sheltered. They still have all their fingers and toes and they continue to spit on and bite their guards.

Now, the almighty attorney general, Eric Holder, is investigating our Special Agents and even the previous administration’s legal advisors. Does he not understand that the investigations alone help our enemy? They force good men and women to second guess their future accusers. They force them to back off. Could it be that this caution will let more Dr Hasan’s stay in the system? Could it be that our CIA agents will miss a critical piece of information? Could it be that a young soldier or Marine will hesitate for a split second and die?

Which brings me to the real reason I am writing today; Why, on earth, are we not celebrating and awarding medals to the three young NAVY SEALs, Matthew McCabe, Julio Huertas, and Jonathon Keefe, who recently captured Ahmed Hashim Abed, a notorious al-Qaeda terrorist and mastermind of the Blackwater ambush in April of 2004 (See #20)? Apparently, Mr. Abed claimed that he had been mistreated and now the three young men face a court marshall. Where have we gone wrong? How did the world get turned upside down?

Take a moment and read how our enemies treat their prisoners:

  1. March 2, 1973, Khartoum, Sudan. Cleo A. Noel, Jr., U.S. ambassador to Sudan, and George C. Moore, also a U.S. diplomat, were held hostage and then killed by terrorists at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. It seems likely that Fatah was responsible for the attack. *
  2. January 1, 1977, Beirut, Lebanon. Frances E. Meloy, U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, and Robert O. Waring, the U.S. economic counselor, were kidnapped by PFLP members as they crossed a militia checkpoint separating the Christian from the Muslim parts of Beirut. They were later shot to death. *
  3. March 16, 1984, Beirut, Lebanon. Hezbollah kidnapped William Buckley, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. His body was never found. *
  4. December 4, 1984, Tehran, Iran. Hezbollah terrorists hijacked a Kuwait Airlines plane en route from Dubai, United Emirates, to Karachi, Pakistan. The terrorists murdered two passengers–American Agency for International Development employees, Charles Hegna and William Stanford. *
  5. June 14, 1985, Between Athens and Rome. Two Hezbollah members hijacked a TWA flight en route to Rome from Athens and forced the pilot to fly to Beirut. The eight crewmembers and 145 passengers were held for 17 days during which one of the hostages, Robert Stethem, a U.S. Navy diver, was murdered. *
  6. October 7, 1985, Between Alexandria, Egypt and Haifa, Israel. A four-member PFLP squad took over the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, as it was sailing from Alexandria, Egypt, to Israel. The squad murdered a disabled U.S. citizen, Leon Klinghoffer, by throwing him in the ocean. *
  7. September 5, 1986, Karachi, Pakistan. Abu Nidal members hijacked a Pan Am flight bound for New York with 379 passengers, including 89 Americans. The terrorists killed 22 of the passengers, including two American citizens. *
  8. September 9, 1986, Beirut, Lebanon. Hezbollah kidnapped Frank Reed, director of the American University in Beirut. They accused him of being “a CIA agent” and held him for 44 months. Then, on September 12, 1986, Hezbollah kidnapped Joseph Cicippio, the acting comptroller at the American University in Beirut. Cicippio was released five years later in December 1991. *
  9. February 17, 1988, Ras-Al-Ein Tyre, Lebanon. Colonel William Richard “Rich” Higgins, USMC, the American chief of the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization (involved in a peace-keeping mission), was abducted, tortured and eventually murdered by Hezbollah. *

10.  January, 1991, Iraq and Kuwait. During the Persian Gulf War, Iraq brutally tortured U.S. prisoners of war. Saddam Hussein’s secret police broke bones; shattered skulls and eardrums; and whipped, burned, shocked, beat, starved and urinated on our POWs. One extraordinary Marine was knocked unconscious so many times he lost count; he returned home with a fractured skull for refusing his captors’ orders to criticize President George H.W. Bush. By John Norton Moore,Wednesday, November 10, 2004; Page A27 Also, see: Lowry, Richard, The Gulf War Chronicles, iUniverse Star, 2009,

11.  October 3-4, 1993, Mogadishu, Somalia. Two American Army Rangers mutilated bodies dragged through the streets.

12.   July 4, 1995, Kashmir, India. Terrorists took six tourists hostage, including two U.S. citizens. One of the U.S. citizens escaped on July 8, but all the rest were killed, On August 13 the decapitated body of the Norwegian hostage was found. *

13.  May 9, 2001, Tekoa, West Bank. Kobi Mandell, 13, of Silver Spring, MD, an American-Israeli, was found stoned to death along with a friend in a cave near the Jewish settlement of Tekoa. Two organizations, the Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah-Palestine, claimed responsibility for the attack. *

14.  January 15, 2002, Bethlehem, West Bank. Avraham Boaz, 71, of New York, a dual Israeli-American citizen, was kidnapped at a security checkpoint in Beit Jala and murdered. *

15.  March 23, 2003, Nasiriyah, Iraq. Sergeant Donald Walters was executed by Saddam Fedayeen after being captured in Nasiriyah.

16.  March 23, 2003, Nasiriyah, Iraq. PFC Jessica Lynch was brutally raped after being captured south of Nasiriyah.

17.  March 23, 2003, Nasiriyah, Iraq. SPC Lori Peistewa died in captivity after being denied medical treatment for two hours. See Lowry, Richard,Marines in the Garden of Eden, Berkley, 2006.

18.  March 23, 2003, Az Zubayr, Iraq. A British Army engineering unit made a wrong turn. The unit was ambushed. Sapper Luke Allsopp and Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth became separated from the rest. Both were captured and executed by Iraqi forces.

19.  March 28, 2003, Ash Shatrah, Iraq. Marine Sergeant Fernando Padilla-Ramirez was reported missing from his supply unit after an ambush north of Nasiriyah on March 28. His body was later dragged through the streets of Ash Shatrah and hung in the town square.

20.  March 31, 2004, Fallujah Iraq. Four Blackwater security guards were ambushed and murdered. Their bodies were burned and mutilated and two were hung from Fallujah’s old footbridge.

21.  May 7, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq. Nicholas Berg, an American businessman, beheaded on camera by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a safe-house inside Fallujah.

22.  April 9, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq. PFC Matt Maupin’s fuel convoy attacked west of Baghdad. Matt was captured, tortured and beheaded. His body was not found for four years. **

23. May 16, 2007, Al Taqa, Iraq. Tenth Mountain Division unit attacked south of Baghdad. Four American soldiers were taken prisoner and dragged away. Months later, all four bodies were found. ***

* Compiled by Caroline Taillandier, a research assistant at the GLORIA center and student at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Mitchell Bard, and Alden Oreck, Avi Hein, and Elihai Braun, research assistants at the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, and Paul Teller, Deputy Director, House Republican Study Committee.



[1] Col Mike Shupp, We Were One, p. 61.

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Nov 29th, 2009 by Richard Lowry
Afghanistan – the Road Ahead

afghan-girl National GeographicThe weapons of 21st Century counter-insurgent warfare are books and jobs not bullets and bombs. Victory in Afghanistan requires a cultural and economic shift. But, in order to achieve success, we must first secure the people. We cannot wave a magic wand and instantly bring Afghanistan into the modern world; it will take years to improve the Afghan people’s lives. Nothing can be accomplished with violence in the streets and fear in the countryside. First, and foremost, we must establish a modicum of security.

This is no simple task. Afghanistan’s population is dispersed in small villages throughout a rugged terrain, in a nation one-and-one-half times the size of Iraq. The enemy can go anywhere and we have to defend everywhere. We must work to protect the people and improve their daily lives against all factions: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iranian infiltrators, local warlords and a corrupt government. Establishing security is a manpower intensive proposition. This is why General McChrystal has asked for additional troops. He needs to secure the major population centers: Kabul, Qandahar and Jalabad and then slowly expand the perimeter of peace throughout the land.

Then, and only then, can we work to build a modern society. Then, and only then, can we improve governance and the Afghan economy. Then, and only then, can we improve the plight of the everyday Afghan family. Victory will be measured by the number of children attending school and the number of breadwinners earning an honest day’s pay.

A basic tenant of counter-insurgent operations is not to take the fight to the enemy, but to be prepared to defeat them when they bring the fight to you. The goal is to protect the people and eliminate the enemy’s influence among the population. The goal is to make the enemy irrelevant. Again, the geography of Afghanistan calls for large numbers of troops. We must be able to saturate an area with massive force in response to enemy activity and be able to have sufficient other forces to protect the people from insurgent intimidation and more troops to train the Afghanis to protect themselves.

Today, we can neither protect the people nor lessen the enemy’s influence. Today, the enemy has the advantage and we are in a reactionary mode.


Until we gain the initiative, we are losing the fight. We must force the enemy to react to us. But, focusing on American only goals is the surest way to be seen as an occupying force and the fastest way to failure. A purely military operation will eventually be defeated. We must avoid the temptation to focus on Al Qaeda’s leaders alone. We must attack on all fronts: military, economic and diplomatic. We must work to better the lives of the people—to win their “hearts and minds.”

Today, there are only three career paths in Afghanistan: Drug Lord, War Lord and corrupt government official. To win in Afghanistan we must reach out to the Afghan people—first—to protect them, and then to provide decent medical care and an education for their children. We must work to help villagers develop micro-economies; helping them plant alternative crops, dig wells, build roads, set up windmills and solar energy sources to help pump water to their fields and villages. In short, we need to help them obtain clean water, good food, and hope for the future.

Surely we need fast-moving, agile combat forces, but we also need mechanics, electricians and nurses to win this war. The United States Army has already created a paradigm for the forces required. The Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Armored Division is currently operating as the first Advice and Assist Brigade in southern Iraq.

It is collaborating with Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Military Transition Teams, and Police Training Teams to merge diplomatic, information, economic, and military power into an effective force for good in southern Iraq. The Brigade’s soldiers are currently enabling the Iraqi provincial governments to progress and establish a solid foundation for long-term security and peace.


Many here in America view this as a shooting war, a war in the classic sense where enemy combatants are shooting and killing each other until one is defeated, often with innocent civilian casualties. Some even consider this a war of aggression. The fact is that America has been at war with Islamic Fundamentalists since 9/11. We first attacked their safe-havens in Afghanistan in 2002 and then continued the fight in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines. That war continues. Our enemies still mean us harm. We cannot just come home and declare that the war is over. They will follow us home.

We must defeat the enemy by making him irrelevant not by appeasing him or even killing him. “It is a year-round struggle [in Afghanistan], often conducted with little apparent violence, to win the support of the people.”[1] This modern-day conflict will be won by improving the daily lives of real people. America’s military wants nothing more than to bring peace and security to the region. If you hate war, you should be in favor of sending more troops to the area, as McChrystal’s plan provides the only hope for stability in the region.


Richard S. Lowry is a military historian and the award-winning author of Marines in the Garden of Eden and The Gulf War Chronicles. Watch for his new book: New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah. It tells the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and will be in bookstores in May of 2010. Visit to learn more about Richard and his work.

[1] General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander’s Initial Assessment, 30 August, 2009, NATO International Security Assistance Force, Afghanistan.

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Oct 31st, 2009 by Richard Lowry

Firefight at COP KEATING

It began at dawn on Saturday, October 3, 2009, at an isolated outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban[1] had been harassing the troopers at COP Keating for months, attacking them three or four times a week. Most attacks consisted of a few bursts of small arms fire and a lobbed mortar round or a single RPG; nothing like what the soldiers at Keating were about to experience.

Combat Outpost (COP) Keating had become a thorn in the enemy’s side. The American cavalry troopers of Bravo Troop, 3d Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment had occupied the small COP deep in the Afghan mountains for some time and the American soldiers had been trying to win over the local civilians. It appeared that the Americans were there to stay. So, the enemy launched a massive assault on the isolated American stronghold.

First Lieutenant Andrew Bundermann, the Red Platoon leader, was still asleep, as were most of his men, when the attack started. “That’s incoming,” a soldier told Sergeant Eric Harder as they lay in their racks. Red Platoon’s troopers quickly responded to the attack. Soldiers on watch started returning fire as everyone dressed, grabbed their gear and ran to their assigned stations. Gunners ran to the Troop’s HMMWV[2] gun trucks, infantrymen manned their fighting positions, leaders rushed to the Tactical Operations Center (TOC), and mortarmen headed for their mortars to try to suppress the enemy fire coming from the mountains above.

The COP was taking a lot of indirect fire and RPGs were hitting everywhere on the compound. Sergeant Harder could hear rounds fired from the high ground hitting the roof of the barracks. The enemy attacked from three sides with RPGs, a couple of Russian-made B-10 recoilless rifles, accurate sniper fire, and machine guns. If American troopers went out in the open, they were vulnerable. The enemy had a commanding view of COP Keating.

The Afghan National Army soldiers wanted nothing to do with this fight. They cut and ran, leaving the COP’s main gate undefended and the Cavalry Troopers to fight off the attack on their own.

The American commanders could not have selected a more difficult spot to defend. COP Keating was set close to a small village in a deep river valley near the Pakistani border. It was surrounded on three sides by towering rocky mountains. The Americans and Afghan soldiers occupied a complex of nineteen buildings down in the valley. It was like being the away team in a football stadium where the angry fans had AK-47s, sniper rifles and machine guns. Bravo Troop’s soldiers hunkered down in the sturdier buildings surrounded by HESCO[3] barriers, sandbagged fighting trenches and a concertina-topped chain link fence. A concrete bridge was just outside the Entry Control Point (ECP), connecting the small outpost with its Landing Zone (LZ) on the other side of the river. This was COP Keating’s only connection to the outside world. The entrance to the COP was the weak link in the defensive perimeter.

The soldiers had built a machinegun bunker on top of a small building that overlooked the entrance to the COP and the bridge. They had several HMMWV gun trucks with machine guns mounted in their armored turrets. They also had 120mm and 60mm mortars set up inside the compound that could reach high into the mountains with deadly, accurate indirect fire.

The Taliban had conducted recon-by-fire missions that seemed to be simply harassing fire. When asked, one of the troopers called it “general douchebaggery.” It is apparent that the harassing fire was much more than that. Enemy commanders noted how the troopers reacted to their attacks. They observed how the Americans responded with their mortars, timed how long it took for aircraft to respond, and counted the American’s heavy guns. They learned that the Americans could provide indirect mortar fire from nearby COP Fritsche.

One of the first incoming rounds took out Keating’s generator, leaving the soldiers in the dark and without some of their communications gear. Red Platoon was on batteries. When they died, there would be no communication with the outside world.

Task Force Pale Rider’s mortarmen rushed to the mortar pits in Keating and Fritsche at the first sounds of the attack. The Taliban were waiting. They had heavy weapons zeroed in on Bravo Troop’s mortars at both COPs.  They opened fire on the soldiers, killing one and wounding another at Keating. The mortarmen at both outposts were pinned down, not able to get to their guns. The enemy had taken out Red Platoon’s indirect fire capability.

Red Platoon’s only effective fire came from the .50 caliber and 240 machine guns in their gun trucks and sandbagged fighting positions. Undaunted, Sergeant Jayson Souter called for fire from FOB Bostick and the Squadron zeroed in on Fritsche’s attackers with 155mm howitzer fire. Once the troopers at Fritsche could get to their 120mm mortars, they began pounding the enemy positions above Keating with high explosives.

With no artillery support, it was pretty intense for the first half hour. Soldiers were pushing out from their barracks to man their positions as the gun trucks fought back with their heavy machine guns. Everyone was laying down as much fire as they could, trying to repel the determined attack.

Air support was on the way but a fire had started to rage in the compound. Sergeant Harder was fighting from the cover of his barracks when he got the radio call. The gunners in the trucks were running out of ammo. Harder and several other soldiers answered the call for ammo and raced from the barracks toward the Ammunition Supply Point (ASP). Steps outside the door, they could feel the rounds hitting the building as they ran. Harder was the first to reach the ammo bunker. He started pulling out ammunition and giving it to his guys, ordering each soldier to a different truck. The soldiers raced the ammunition to the gun trucks and then returned to the safety of their barracks. Once the enemy noticed that Harder and his men were re-supplying the gun trucks, a sniper zeroed in on the door to their barracks. On the machine gunners’ next call for ammo, Harder had to pop a smoke grenade to push guys out again. There was no stopping. The guys on the trucks kept calling for more bullets. “We had to keep moving.”[4]

On each call for ammo, Harder would pop a smoke at the barracks door and then he and his men would rush to the bunker, grab two more smoke grenades and more boxes of machine gun rounds and rush them to the HMMWVs. Then they would return to the relative safety of their barracks.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Carson Shrode, the Troop’s Fires Support Officer, had called for air support. Very soon, it was clear that this was no ordinary harassing attack. The enemy was making a deliberate attempt to overrun the outpost. Soon three of the five main buildings were in flames and the enemy was at the wire.

American jet aircraft were on station within 20 minutes dropping their bombs. But, the enemy continued the attack, completely overrunning the ECP and the abandoned Afghan National Army compound. The American soldiers fought gallantly, but they were severely outnumbered, outgunned and surrounded. They continued to fight, begrudgingly giving ground, feet at a time. Casualties started to mount.

On one of his trips to the ammo bunker, Sergeant Harder noticed that the trucks were getting hit with RPGs from very close range. Then, he saw the enemy advancing from point to point. They were inside the wire. They weren’t bounding, but they had a lot of covering fire. Rounds were impacting in the open areas from several enemy machine guns overhead in the mountains.

The aid station filled rapidly. The Doc triaged the wounded. He patched up lightly wounded troopers and let them return to the fight. Some were too severely wounded to return to the fight and others were so badly injured that he worried that they would not survive. When the aid station filled to capacity, some of the wounded were moved into the TOC.

Meanwhile, the fire slowly spread. The soldiers tried and failed to put it out with water and fire extinguishers. Almost an hour after the first shots had been fired, the TOC was filling with smoke. The troopers grabbed their maps, radios and laptops and fell back to the last two secure buildings in the compound.

Then Bundermann’s radio crackled, “Pale Rider, this is Black Knight.” Two Apache helicopters had arrived on scene. Chief Warrant Officer Ross Lewallen piloted one of the aircraft with Chief Warrant Officer Chad Bardwell sitting in front of him in the co-pilot/gunner seat. They quickly appraised the situation, identified friendly positions and then Bardwell opened fire with his deadly chain gun, killing dozens of the enemy fighters. But, the attackers persisted. The Apache pilots swooped low on gun runs and more Taliban fired on the helicopters from perches in the mountains. All the while, the enemy pressed the attack on the ground. But, the tide was turning. Fritsche’s mortars and the Apaches continued to pound the enemy in the mountains above Keating, taking some of the pressure off Bundermann’s troopers in COP Keating.

Knowing the enemy was inside the wire, Harder was much more careful on his next run for ammunition. He slowly moved up to the ASP with four other soldiers and stopped at the corner of the bunker. The enemy hadn’t taken the ammo bunker but they were close enough to let loose an RPG in Harder’s direction. The grenade whooshed toward them and impacted within five feet of Harder and his men. Ears ringing and shins peppered with small pieces of shrapnel, Harder fell back.

Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha led the counterattack to retake the ASP. Once their ammunition supply was secure, the troopers pushed out to clear the compound and take back the main gate. They secured the ECP and barricaded the bridge with plywood, concertina and anything else they could find to insure no one else could get into the COP.

With the entrance to the outpost secure, the soldiers pushed out to the outlying fighting positions where troopers had been stranded, rescuing Specialist Ty Carter and Sergeant Bradley Larson and a severely wounded soldier. They also recovered the bodies of their fallen comrades. The badly wounded soldier had a broken leg, a shattered hip, and was bleeding badly. He was rushed to the aid station where his fellow troopers volunteered to transfuse blood to keep him alive until a MEDEVAC helicopter could be brought in.

The Apache helicopters continued to pound the enemy in the mountains above COP Keating while Bravo Troop’s soldiers pushed across the bridge to secure the LZ for the MEDEVAC. It wasn’t until after noon that the wounded could be flown out. Reinforcements didn’t arrive until later that evening after the fighting had ended. By the time they were relieved, Red Platoon’s Troopers had been fighting for twelve hours. They were exhausted, but they had held. They had won the battle.

Bundermann’s Red Platoon, with the help of indirect fires, fixed-wing aircraft and attack helicopters overhead, had beaten back the attack against overwhelming odds. Over one hundred Taliban had been killed in their failed attempt to overrun an outpost that the Americans were preparing to abandon anyway. The battle had pretty much destroyed COP Keating, so the troopers collected their sensitive gear, weapons and ammunition and returned to FOB Bostick with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

The shift in American strategy accomplished what three hundred armed Taliban could not. It left the remote outpost abandoned.

Bundermann’s troopers were broken hearted. They had lost friends that day. Eight of Bravo Troop’s soldiers were killed in the fight: Sergeant Justin T. Gallegos, Specialist Christopher T. Griffin, Sergeant Joshua M. Hardt, Sergeant Joshua J. Kirk, Specialist Stephen L. Mace, Staff Sergeant Vernon W. Martin, Sergeant Michael P. Scusa, and Private 1st Class Kevin C. Thomson.

Over a week later, Lieutenant Bundermann summed it all up. “Everybody on the ground that day did a fantastic job. They all need to be recognized as great Americans.”[5] When asked what Americans at home can do to help, Bundermann answered. “Just remember what some of these guys do.”

Richard S. Lowry is a military historian and the award-winning author of Marines in the Garden of Eden and The Gulf War Chronicles. Watch for his new book: New Dawn: the Battles for Fallujah. It tells the entire story of Operation Phantom Fury and will be in bookstores in May of 2010. Visit to learn more about Richard and his work.

[1] There is a complex enemy in Afghanistan, comprised of many warlords, drug dealers, religious fanatics, foreign fighters and just plain thugs. As a group, they are simply known as Taliban. The group attacking COP Keating was mainly composed of locally hired fighters.

[2] High Mobility Multi-Wheeled Vehicle.

[3] HESCO barriers, named after the British company that manufactures them, are made of a collapsible wire mesh container and a heavy duty fabric liner. Easily erected and then filled with sand, they provide semi-permanent protection against small-arms fire and shrapnel.

[4] Sgt Justin Puetz, U.S. Army 5th MPAD Interview with Sgt Eric Harder, 14 October, 2009.

[5] Sgt Justin Puetz, U.S. Army 5th MPAD Interview with 1st Lt. Andrew Bundermann, 14 October, 2009.

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Oct 31st, 2009 by Richard Lowry
Welcome to my new blogsite


Hello All,

I am in the process of building a new website. This blog is part of that site. I will continue to post at and on my American Legion – Department of Florida Cyberpost 208 blog site as well, but this site will contain ALL of my new posts.

Visit regularly to get updates on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and to learn of events that I will be involved in.

I will also be posting news on the progress of the production of my new book New Dawn.

As soon as I figure out how to implement RSS feeds, that feature will be added so that you can get updates automatically.

Please tell everyone you know about and Also, please visit my website and sign my guestbook.

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