- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

Snow and camouflage tricked the world's most sophisticated surveillance systems before the kickoff of Operation Anaconda, enabling a nest of hidden al Qaeda fighters to ambush American choppers landing on Takur Ghar mountain.
Seven U.S. service members died in the two-day battle. It commenced when an Army Chinook helicopter on March 3 landed within a few hundred feet of a fortified al Qaeda bunker. A Navy SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, fell from the chopper as a rocket-launched grenade struck the aircraft, and it reversed course and sped away.
During the next 17 hours, according to a senior military official at the Pentagon, two other helicopters brought troops into the battle of Takur Ghar to try to rescue Petty Officer Roberts. When the last of the al Qaeda fighters were killed and the mountaintop captured, the sailor's body was found near a boulder. Six other commandos had died trying to save him in the deadliest firefight in the war in Afghanistan.
The infiltrators were also hampered by poor radio communications as mountainous terrain cut off line-of-sight signals. One chopper landed in the wrong place as a result of wrong information relayed from a command post.
"There was a lot of fog and friction in this battle," a military briefer told reporters.
The first team, including Petty Officer Roberts, were not supposed to meet any resistance. Their mission was to conduct reconnaissance and become a blocking force to pick off al Qaeda fighters trying to flee a major coalition assault in the Shah-e-Kot Valley in eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. Central Command, which is running the war, sent a team to investigate the Takur Ghar battle to correct mistakes in decision-making and tactics.
The major blunder occurred when multimillion-dollar satellites failed to detect the heavy fortification at the top of Takur Ghar.
"What we were seeing was 3 feet of snow on top of well-hidden bunker positions," the military official said. "They were well-fortified and they were under the foliage of the tree, hidden from anything that we would have to discern that ahead of time Our high-tech systems don't always defeat low-tech means."
The official said Petty Officer Roberts exchanged gunfire with the enemy and perhaps survived a hour before dying of gunshots at close range. He was dead before a rescue team arrived.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday said, "Their deaths are a reminder not only of the dangers that military men and women face in the war on terrorism, but the valor they display in the face of enemy fire, a fact that we remember with special gratitude as we prepare for the Memorial Day weekend."


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