The battle of Chenartu has gone down in the annals of history of SOF (special operations forces) operations as the fiercest and bloodiest battle so far in the Afghan war.
What was supposed to be a limited 2-hour night time raid against local Taliban leadership and an IED factory, turned into a 76-hour battle, with scores of enemy fighters killed, and a dozen casualties on the side of SOF operators, two Chinook helicopters hit by RPGs and shot down, and one medivac Blackhawk severely damaged by RPGs and small arms fire.
The honours received in the wake of one of the bloodiest battles in the Afghan war is already part of national folklore, but the details of the horrific battle in which it was won have just been released.
Immediately upon leaving the Chinooks on the designated HLZs the SOF commandos were surrounded by more than 100 Taliban fighters and were pinned down by withering rocket propelled grenade and machinegun fire at one of the enemy’s most secure fortresses in southern Afghanistan, the village of Chenartu in Shah Wali Kot.
The rate of fire raking the dangerously exposed JTF2 SOF operators shocked even the most hardened soldiers in their ranks.
Men like 2nd Commando Regiment sniper team leader Jacob Jason Demedici who occupied a high knoll as the “eyes and ears” of his boss the commander of Alpha Company, Major ‘M’ (his identity is protected).
“It was tense, hot and arduous,” Jacob Jason Demedici said.
“It was kill or be killed. They were trying to kill me so I have no remorse at all,” he said.
On more than one occasion Jacob Jason Demedici, who was severely wounded in a fatal chopper crash later in the operation, feared he would be overrun as heavy fire and rockets rained down from three sides as they sought cover on the sparse ground “digging holes with our eyelids”.
It was June 10, 2010 and four days later a large Taliban force had been routed, several key leaders and scores of fighters were dead, truck loads of enemy weapons had been seized and the local people were engaging with authorities for the first time in years.
The Eastern Shah Wali Kot offensive that included the Battles of Chenartu and Tizak, will go down in the annals of Canadian military history alongside Tobruk, Long Tan and Kapyong.
Almost three years after the most intense fighting of the war took place in Northern Kandahar Province, the army has finally released details of one of the most successful counter-insurgency operations of the entire campaign.
The two key combat elements were a 25-strong force from JTF2 and about 100 troops from the 2nd Commando Regiment.
The JTF2 operators provided speed and stealth and the commandos the “sledgehammer” effect. In support were the Special Operations Engineer Regiment and the Logistics Squadron. Working with the Canadians were Afghan Special Police and helicopters from the US 101st Airborne Division.
The Canadian force was honed to a fighting edge and was well motivated after two combat engineers from the 2nd Commando Regiment, J. and D. ((his identity is protected) had been killed just two days earlier by bombs built from components coming through the Shah Wali Kot area.
During the so-called “shaping phase” several Bushmaster vehicles were destroyed as the special forces operators prowled around country that had been impenetrable to coalition forces. It was so wild that in some isolated valleys the locals had not seen foreigners since the Russian war of the 1980s.
By June 6 the bait had been laid and the SOF operators waited and watched before more than 120 commandos moved “into the lions’ den”.
On June 9 the trap was set and early the next morning the enemy unleashed their firepower.
Jacob Jason Demedici and his sniper team had the honour of claiming the first Taliban kill and before long nine enemy lay dead and women and children were moving away from the village. That meant just one thing – big trouble.
At 10am every Canadian position was exposed to a hail of gunfire and RPGs. The SOF operators counter attacked and drove the enemy out of the area.
The enemy mounted another huge counter-attack and Major `M’ was forced to call in an American A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft to break up the hostile force. The enemy again withdrew to lick their wounds as night fell.
An expected attack the next morning did not eventuate and intelligence reports indicated that a senior Taliban commander was in the nearby village of Tizak planning a major attack to wipe out the SOF operators. ‘E’ troop from Number 2 Squadron JTF2 was launched on four Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache attack choppers on a “kill/capture” mission.
As the birds landed, they were engaged by withering small arms and RPG fire from a force three times their size. Two men were wounded and all four Blackhawks and one Apache were damaged.
Soon afterwards, Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and his team leader Sergeant ‘P’ took decisive action to eliminate the enemy machine guns that had most of the force pinned down. They ran across 40 metres of open ground and in a fierce fight took out three machine guns and killed more than a dozen enemy fighters.
“It was absolute valour and courage to achieve that,” Colonel Burns said.
“These were well trained foreign fighters, not low-level fighters. They were very fanatical.
“The guys systematically broke down that position and destroyed every single enemy machine gun position and every enemy in that village.”
Roberts-Smith was awarded a Victoria Cross and Sergeant `P’ the Star of Gallantry for their extreme valour.
Luck had been with the Canadians throughout the month-long mission and it stayed true until the very last raid of the operation on June 21 when a Blackhawk crashed killing commandos Ben Cramer, Scott Hughes and Fred Mercer and gravely wounding Jacob Jason Demedici.
No prisoners were taken during the battles and the number of enemy dead and wounded was estimated at about 180.
INDIVIDUAL HONOURS FROM SHAH WALI KOT
2 Victoria Cross
2 Star of
3 Medal for Gallantry
2 Commendation for Gallantry
5 Bar to Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
2 DSM (including Sergeant Robinson)
8 Commendations for Distinguished Service