A firefight in the mountains
Operation Viking Hammer was truly one for the record books
The two men saw their teammates crouched behind the walls farther ahead and dashed for the nearest one. The hidden Ansar fighters began lobbing mortars. Within minutes, the rounds began landing uncomfortably close. The militants knew what they were doing: Pin down the prey with machine guns, bracket them with mortars, then adjust fire for the kill.
Grit and the 28-year-old medic were huddled face to face behind the rock wall. They looked at each other and burst out laughing. It was the first step toward mobilization. "Hey man, we gotta go," Grit told him. Grit had been in plenty of fixes before, but this was as hairy as anything he'd seen. He knew they had to move before the next barrage. On the count of three, they dashed to the next wall and hurled themselves behind it. Then they looked back. The next mortar rounds hit the spot they had just fled.
The Ansar fighters immediately began readjusting their aim. Within minutes, mortar rounds were kicking up clods of dirt and grass all around them. "Get the map out," Grit told the medic. "We've got to land some mortars of our own on them." He raised his head to see where the captain was, and a high-velocity bullet cracked just above his head. "Johnny Cab," he called over the MBITR (multiband intrateam radio), using the captain's call sign. "We need mortars."
The captain radioed back the bad news. The Kurds' artillery was behind them in a pickup truck. He suggested trying to raise another SF team on the radio. Grit tried, but it was too far away.
The captain and about 40 Kurds had entered the bowl first and drawn a hellish rain of Katyusha rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns. The Kurds' only heavy gun had jammed, so the captain had run back down the open road to urge the Kurds to bring up their own artillery. Then he ran back to his rock wall where his translator, Bafel Talabani, and one of his sergeants waited.
Bafel, an Oxford-educated Kurd who was the son of the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, was so impressed by the firefight going on that he used his satellite phone to call his cousin, who was participating in another part of the operation in the valley. "We are really in the s - - t," Bafel said excitedly. The captain looked at him, wanting to laugh and box his ears at the same time. They had work to do. He needed Bafel to make sure that artillery was brought forward, and fast.
Crouching behind a wall, the captain noticed that the field they were in was actually a graveyard.
He knew that they had to mount some kind of counterattack to change the dynamics. Ansar al-Islam could either overrun them or just pick them off one by one.
The weapons sergeant moved forward to the captain's wall to hear the plan. Under nearly constant fire, he, the communications sergeant, and one of the medics hauled the .50-caliber machine gun from the pickup up the mountain to maneuver on the Ansar positions. It was up to them to turn the tide of the battle. After setting up, the weapons sergeant began firing round after round as his colleagues spotted targets for him. The Kurds' artillery finally arrived from the rear, and joined in the barrage on the Ansar redoubts. The team's second weapons sergeant, from his position on a ridge a kilometer away, killed several Ansar machine gunners with his sniper rifle.