On Nov 12, A Co of the 101st Airborne's 1-327 Infantry had flown into the Watapur valley to search a town militants had been using to attack their COP. Over 3 days they'd been attacked, given chase, and lost 6 soldiers. They couldn't push any further, so Team Darby was called.
For a sense of the terrain: here's (top left) a photo I took from the mouth of the Watapur in 2013, w/ the Gambir area Team Darby was headed to up near the horizon below the .50-cal's muzzle; and three Army photos from another air assault into the Gambir Jungle in 2011.
Team Darby flew in on MH-47s, hiked down to the target area to which SIGINT suggested the enemy force had retreated, and started searching homes. Two small groups of men took off running, and with ISR guiding him, Pape went after them with his squad and a Belgian malinois (Jari).
Pape and two other NCOs led the way down a steep cliff toward the spot where an infrared beam from a surveillance aircraft overhead was marking two of the enemy runners. At the bottom of the cliff, they started shooting, and Pape started shooting back.
As he walked forward, Pape moved into the field of fire of a Taliban machine gunner who was waiting in the hidden mouth of a cave or tunnel system, who fired a burst that wounded him.

Here is an Army narrative of what happened next: valor.militarytimes.com/hero/54252
The Ranger platoon leader's guess was that Pape had stumbled on the entrance to a command post, maybe the one a Taliban or al-Qaida commander had been using to oversee the fight against 1-327. Fighters from all around rallied to protect it as Team Darby tried to save Pape.
It was rare for AC-130s to stay out past dawn, but 2 did on Nov 16, 2010, as Kiowas also did gun-runs. As part of the platoon secured a terrace for an HLZ, another part threw cave-clearing grenades into the tunnel, then had the AC-130s focus on it.

The platoon leader's account:
The company medic, Luis Aponte, did everything he could to save Pape, but air medevac operations in that kind of terrain are very tough, as a TF East SEAL explained here a couple of weeks before Team Darby's Gambir mission. Kevin Pape died before the helicopter arrived.
Team Darby wound up being awarded a Valorous Unit Award for the Nov 15-16 Gambir mission, during which it had killed dozens of militants in a place largely beyond the reach of conventional troops, one where al-Qaida Arabs were known to hide out and train local fighters.
As with anything in the Afghan war, it's hard to say just what the mission accomplished in the big picture. The Rangers killed militants who had killed Americans, probably, which the 1-327 troops were grateful for. But the enemy in Kunar always replenished their ranks after...
...big air-assault missions into the mountains, which there was a long tradition of in Kunar by 2010.

One thing that set Bulldog Bite & the Gambir mission apart from those other air assaults, though, was that its purpose was to ease withdrawal of US troops from the Pech valley.
The most a US unit could reasonably hope for from a big air assault in Kunar was for the casualties they'd inflicted to slow down Taliban operations for a few weeks or maybe a few months at best. That could make these missions seem pointless, since what they were buying...
...time and "white space" for tended to be just more of the same counterinsurgency operations down on the valley floor below that proved fruitless over time and wound up leading to more air assaults: the "mowing the lawn" phenomenon.

Bulldog Bite was a little different, though.
What the Nov 2010 Watapur mission bought time for was a partial pullout—one that 101st Airborne leadership fought hard for at a time when ISAF was loathe to cede ground, especially in places like the Pech that previously had been held up as COIN successes. nytimes.com/2011/02/25/wor…
But this is the Afghan war we're talking about, so it wasn't long before new units rotated in, partly reversed the withdrawal, & went back up there. On June 25, 2011, two 25th ID soldiers & an interpreter died descending the same mountain. csmonitor.com/USA/Military/2…
As US ground troops pulled out of the Pech again in 2012-13, the JSOC task force switched to air strikes in the area in a drone campaign called Operation Haymaker. For JSOC leaders, that was in part because the risks of missions like the Gambir Jungle one were so high.
It took 5 years of Haymaker strikes for the JSOC task force to kill their big fish, AQ leader Farouq al-Qahtani, who was known to spend time in the Watapur, Waygal & Helgal valleys & was likely up there somewhere at the time of the 2010 Team Darby mission. washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoin…
By then, al-Qaida's foothold in the mountains north of the Pech was under threat not just from US drones but from ISIS's Afghan branch. Gambir is where JSOC killed a senior ISIS-K figure during a spate of Kunar strikes in the summer of 2017. voanews.com/extremism-watc…
Today, the war in the side-valleys north (Watapur etc) and south (Korengal etc) of the Pech continues—between ISIS-K and the Taliban. As of early this year, the Ranger-led JSOC task force was still doing strikes there against both groups.
“Yeah, it raised eyebrows,” a JSOC task force member told me of Rangers' uneasiness with using strikes to help their old foes against new ones. "But I think everyone understands that it’s time to try something different.” The memory of fallen Ranger legends like Pape looms large.
As the US force in Afghanistan shrinks down to 2,500 and maybe further, the Ranger-led JSOC task force will remain the central part of it. Among its members will likely be some 19y/o Rangers who weren't born when the first soldiers of their regiment arrived at Bagram in Dec 2001.

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More from @wesleysmorgan

20 Nov
Staff Sgt. Kevin Pape, a larger-than-life 1/75 Ranger squad leader, was killed 10 years ago this week during Team Darby’s plunge into the Gambir Jungle in pursuit of insurgents who had killed six 1-327 Infantry soldiers during Operation Bulldog Bite
Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Kevin Pape "was one of those kids that had all the G.I. Joes. He’d make tanks out of cardboard boxes," his late father, Marc, told me a few years ago. As a teenager in the mid '90s he paintballed and was on the track and cross-country teams.
Pape enlisted at 25 in 2005, following a childhood friend into 1st Ranger Battalion. Deploying to Iraq for the first time in 2006, then again and again, he was there for the heyday of the Rangers' Stryker-mounted missions against the forerunners of ISIS in places like Mosul.
Read 7 tweets
17 Nov
“To the average trooper, it said the sergeants were the real power of the SAS...To the junior officers, it said that if you go along with the sergeants, you'll be left alone. If you push back, your life will become a living hell.” On the SASR’s “NCO mafia” abc.net.au/news/2020-11-1…
SASR veteran: “We had some good sergeants and not so good sergeants...The not so good sergeants were the ones who were able to shape and influence and be those cancerous individuals that led [the SAS] down that path." But what about commanders who knew? abc.net.au/news/2020-11-1…
One set of illegal killings “was reported all the way up the special forces chain of command but dismissed....The former SAS patrol commander had one message for me about alleged war crimes. ‘EVERYONE KNEW,’ he wrote.” abc.net.au/news/2020-11-1…
Read 4 tweets
22 Oct
The Afghanistan JSOC task force has been using SIGINT to figure out where the Taliban needs help against ISIS in Kunar, then delivering it via drone strikes, troops involved told me.

They jokingly nicknamed the targeting team the “Taliban Air Force.” washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/1…
“What we’re doing with the strikes against ISIS is helping the Taliban move,” one special operator told me. The Taliban and ISIS are duking it out in the same old terrain—Korengal, Chowkay—where U.S. spent years relying heavily on airpower and artillery. washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/1…
It’s a way of tipping the scales against ISIS, which the US sees as more dangerous, without having to talk to Taliban. “It’s easy to capture the Taliban’s communications,” said Bill Ostlund. “Why directly coordinate with them when you can do it that way?” washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/1…
Read 8 tweets
13 Oct
The Extortion 17 conspiracy theory is one of the dumbest around. CENTCOM investigation should qualify as a thorough debunking. At that pace of ops, a JSOC strike force was going to be lost to a lucky RPG eventually; see this prediction from a SEAL Team 6 chief a year before: Image
The Extortion 17 conspiracy theory comes in many flavors and has many fatal flaws. But a basic one is the premise that the shootdown killed SEALs who were on the bin Laden raid. It didn't: bin Laden raid was Team 6's Red Squadron, Extortion 17 was Gold Sqn
This person is trying to revive the Extortion 17 conspiracy theory—claiming to have new documents. But the redacted documents pictured here are just from the declassified CENTCOM investigation (under "Wardak CH-47 investigation" at www3.centcom.mil/FOIALibrary)
Read 4 tweets
13 Oct
This was going to happen eventually. Kind of amazing that it took this long. There are roughly as many US troops in Somalia as there are in Syria (500 is the Pentagon's official number).
Here's former JSOC and SOCOM commander Gen. (Ret.) Tony Thomas, who presided over JSOC strikes and raids in Somalia, recently saying that "whether al Shabab is a threat to the US is subject to debate." counthttps://twitter.com/TonyT2Thomas/status/1312414701092036610?s=20
Here's another US counterterrorism and intelligence veteran echoing that assessment:
Read 4 tweets
12 Oct
In this story for which @natepenn interviewed Clint Lorance, Lorance comes across pretty badly—but his defense/pardon team comes across a lot worse, touting “biometric” evidence that was really just willfully misread common Afghan names in a database story.californiasunday.com/clint-lorance-…
.@natepenn’s story about what Clint Lorance did, and what Lorance’s defense team and Fox News did to get Trump to pardon him, is worth reading in full. It sounds like Lorance himself accepted he was guilty and fairly convicted—until convinced otherwise. story.californiasunday.com/clint-lorance-…
Also, it’s funny that the story is about the Arghandab and is titled “The Last Patrol.” So is this fantastic Brian Mockenhaupt story about paratroopers from the same brigade in the same district on their previous, surge-era deployment theatlantic.com/magazine/archi…
Read 4 tweets

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