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On The Scene

Report from front of Operation Anaconda

CNN reporter Martin Savidge on the front line in Afghanistan.  

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Despite suffering casualties and meeting unexpectedly heavy resistance one day earlier, U.S. troops were eager Tuesday to engage al Qaeda and Taliban fighters holed up in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. CNN's Martin Savidge and cameraman Scott McWhinnie accompanied soldiers of the 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain divisions. He shared his experience Tuesday night with CNN anchor Aaron Brown.

SAVIDGE: Twice we loaded in Chinook helicopters. We were with the 10th Mountain Division. We were in the second flight of what was called D-Day.

The first group to go into the area from 10th Mountain was Charlie Company. They actually got in the night before. They said the moment after they got on the ground in a valley and the helicopters left -- 45 seconds later -- they came under intense attack from small arms, machine guns, .50-caliber sniper and mortars.

They said those mortars had the accuracy the like of which they had never seen before. Within half an hour, their own mortar was taken out of action by an enemy mortar round that destroyed the ammunition.

There were at least 26 U.S. soldiers out of about 80 in Charlie Company who were wounded in the 20-hour fire fight that went all night and into the day.

Most suffered shrapnel wounds because of the mortar; some of them suffered direct fire. None of the wounds were considered life threatening.

The military tried to get a medical flight into the area, but those efforts were soon turned into a rescue mission that was supposed to be launched during the day.

We went up one time and but were told that the landing zone was too hot and we couldn't get in. We waited a couple of hours and loaded into the helicopters at night.

The members of 10th Mountain on that flight were very anxious to get in. They knew that those on the ground had one heck of a fight on their hands.

The Apache helicopters that had gone up were thought to be a really strong weapon, but they were suffering tremendous fire from rocket-propelled grenades.

Apparently the Taliban and al Qaeda were sending the RPGs into the air at their maximum distance of 600 meters to explode, creating flak.

At one time, four of the Apache helicopters were down, meaning they had to return to base, because of the damage they suffered.

That knocked out a lot of air cover for the troops. If it hadn't been for the AC-130 Cobra gunships, the soldiers said they wouldn't have been brought out at all.

Eventually, they had to withdraw Charlie Company. They went in too lightly armed and apparently went into the wrong position -- not expecting the resistance that they found.

Now they know that the Taliban and al Qaeda are there to fight until the very death. And the U.S. troops are very happy to try and make that happen.

A brigade made up of 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain Division later left on a search and destroy mission. They will go along those upper ridges of the mountains -- not go on the valley floor -- to try to knock out the mortars and the heavy weaponry that was there.




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