A firefight in the mountains
Operation Viking Hammer was truly one for the record books
Cave busters. After a brief rest, the team set off to pursue the Ansar fighters fleeing toward the border. The Kurds took the low road into the gorge behind the town while the captain's six-man team climbed into the high ground of the mountain pass. The gorge abruptly narrowed into sheer and rocky walls that were honeycombed with dozens of caves. Arabs were rumored to stay in these caves. A hail of gunfire erupted from the caves as the Kurds approached. The peshmerga returned fire, and Grit shot high-explosive grenades into the caves, but the militants continued to fire. Grit tried to smoke them out with tear-gas grenades, but it was time for something bigger. He pulled out a new cave-busting antitank missile called a "small D." The sound of the explosion was deafening. The small D demolished the cave. The firing from inside ceased.
The team climbed higher into the pass in search of fleeing fighters and the radio transmitter. The soldiers moved through a cluster of about 10 cinderblock huts. They were very near the border. Machine-gun fire suddenly ranged in on the team from the steep mountain walls.
The men ran back to the closest hut; the heavy-caliber bullets chipped away at the cinderblock. There was no way they'd last long like this. Chunks of the wall fell away and holes opened up as the building fell apart around them.
Grit and two sergeants fell back to cover the others' retreat to another hut. He fired at least 700 rounds before they had to move again. The searing barrel of the .50-caliber machine gun fell onto the medic's hand, burning him badly. The captain called for air support. The minutes ticked by--15, 20 passed before the jets came into view. The captain ordered them to drop their 500-pound JDAM bombs "danger close." He had to risk the "friendly fire" if they were to have any chance to escape. The bombs fell, then everything went silent.
Back at Sargat, the next day, the team members made a startling discovery--almost half the dead bodies there were foreigners. The team knew that Ansar al-Islam was a mixture of Kurds and foreigners, but there were many more foreigners in Sargat than they had expected. On the bodies the soldiers found foreign identity cards, visas, and passports from a wide variety of Middle Eastern and north African countries: Yemen, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, and Iran. They also found stubs and receipts of plane tickets for travel around the Middle East. It sure looked like an international terrorist training camp to them.
Recognizing their efforts in Operation Viking Hammer, the Pentagon awarded the captain's team three Silver Stars and six Bronze Stars with V for valor. Viking Hammer would go down in the annals of Special Forces history--a battle fought on foot, under sustained fire from an enemy lodged in the mountains, and with minimal artillery and air support. On March 28, 2004, the captain and his men retraced their steps with their Kurdish comrades, their memories of the fight still vivid. -Linda Robinson