1-38 Cav. thwarts Taliban threats during Operation Gryphon Hold
May 11, 2011
NAWA VALLEY, Afghanistan, May 13, 2011 -- Soldiers assigned to 1st Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment, 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, hindered Taliban activity in the Mazgarey Mountain Range during operation Gryphon Hold, April 25-27, 2011.
The squadron operation was spearheaded by Charlie Company, with its long range surveillance assets. Alpha and Bravo troop, elements of Bravo Troop, 4th Squadron, 70th Armored Regiment, 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and 720th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company also participated to ensure Taliban forces could not deter clearing operations in the mountains of Nawa Valley.
"The mountain range was reported as a Taliban safe haven with weapon caches, bed-down locations and training facilities for improvised explosive devise, or IED, operations in the valley and Spin Boldak," said Capt. Jon Cochran, platoon leader, Charlie Company, 1-38 Cav., 525th BFSB.
During the mission, the squadron, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., discovered a large weapons cache and detained three suspects connected to an IED cell.
"We expected most of the Taliban to run to locations in the mountains or into Nawa Valley's village populations, so our best hope was to look for the weapon caches," said tCochran.
Cochran's platoon partnered with the Afghan Border Police and began clearing their objectives.
"This was a good opportunity for the ABP (Afghan Border Police) and U.S. forces to conduct a mission together," said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Baumgartner, platoon sergeant, C Company. "They know the local customs and know how to approach villagers who are more willing to talk to them."
The ABP is familiar with the local area and terrain and know where people support the government, added Baumgartner.
The joint force talked to village elders and searched scarcely inhabited and abandoned compounds before they continued their mission to higher elevations.
While passing through a section of the Mazgarey Mountains, they thoroughly cleared caves up to 300 feet high on both sides of a valley. They recorded cave grid coordinates and blocked the entrances to the uppermost caves, preventing them from being used to store weapons caches.
Clearing the steep mountains did not come without its challenges.
"The mountains were a lot steeper than we expected from looking at imagery analysis, but it was nothing we needed climbing equipment for," said Cochran.
Aside from scaling rocky slopes, an additional challenge was the increasing temperature. Heat played a factor for the C Company Soldiers who air assaulted in and trekked through the mountains to provide over watch.
As the mission continued into the second day, the squadron made its largest find.
"We spotted a large cave and started walking toward it when we noticed something fishy about the area," said Cochran.
The team noticed motorcycle parts around the cave, which is what Taliban use for transportation, he added.
"When we moved into the mountain cave, we found a pressure-plate-making facility, which is the primary means of detonating IEDs in this area," said Cochran.
The joint force of U.S. and Afghan Soldiers found 12 assembled pressure plates and materials to make 37 more. Along the same cluster of caves, they also found foam pads, wires and battery packs and five suicide vests layered with explosives, ball bearings and detonation cord.
"The find [cache] was fairly recent with a lot of scraps scattered," said Cochran, "so it looks like we caught the Taliban in the middle of them making pressure plates. They dropped all their stuff and ran off."
Although, there were no Taliban present in the caves, security forces noticed suspicious activity in a village below the mountain range.
"While we were policing up the cache, one of our gunners providing security on the ground noticed someone in Mashenzai Village signaling with a hand mirror toward the cache site for more than 30 minutes," said Cochran. "He definitely tried to communicate to someone, so we maneuvered a section to his location."
After searching the suspicious person, the Soldiers tested his hands for traces of ammonium nitrate, a substance use for creating explosives. He tested positive. The Soldiers quickly advanced into the village and found two other men who also tested positive.
"The suspects were detained and brought back to Spin Boldak," said Cochran. "As the evidence is stacking up against them, it looks like they are actually an IED cell of their own."
During the mission, squadron vehicles hit four IEDs and the Soldiers found four additional IEDs. No one was injured.
"I think the mission was definitely a big success," said Cohran. "Those suicide vests would have most likely been used in Spin Boldak and on joint forces as we patrolled through Nawa or even Kandahar City. Whether Afghan or our own, we saved lives."