“After completing two tours of duty as a Marine combat correspondent in Iraq, I traveled to Afghanistan as a civilian war correspondent in April 2012. The following story features a spur-of-the-moment mission that saw one Marine injured and more than 20 Taliban fighters killed.
I arrived in the middle of things, just after a hostile action on Afghan police headquarters. The word around camp was:
“Police Chief Wali Koka is officially tougher than Chuck Norris.”
That was when the Marines found out that the Musaqelah District Police Chief would survive a gangland-style hit, which left him full of holes and down to one eye.
Just days earlier, in broad daylight three motorcycles carrying men in police uniforms pulled up and parked in front of the district headquarters. The men dismounted the bikes, turned, and opened fire on the guards, killing them instantly.
The attackers wasted no time, with their element of surprise lying dead on the dirt, they scrambled through door and headed straight to the chief’s office.
“They had (intelligence) on the building, that much is for sure,” said Capt. Ben Middindorf, company commander, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “And their costumes were complete, all except for the shoes. Tennis shoes, instead of boots.”
The first attacker burst into Koka’s office and let loose a burst from his AK, hitting the chief multiple times. Koka fell to the ground, pulled out his pistol, and unleashed hell at close range. The first man went down, and as the second was hit entering the door, he triggered a suicide vest.
The blast blew his remaining comrade to pieces, and lodged three ball bearings in Koka’s eye.
“This guy was the lynchpin to stability in that area, so, in his absence, we knew we had to do something to regain control,” said Middindorf.
The idea was to take a company of grunts, about 200, march them through the dead of night to a rendezvous point, rest, and then move on a key supply hub in the middle of fiercely held Taliban territory. A small village, called Lewar Jel Jay, and it was the organizational jump off point for enemy operations in the area.
This is what Marines call, “Company movement to contact.”
“Pardon my language, but I couldn’t fucking believe it when I finally gave the order, I said — prepare for a frontal assault on Lewar-Jel-Jay.”
(Writer’s note: At the behest of his fellow Marines, this story is for Colton Carlson—a young American who’s man enough to apply his own tourniquets before the smoke clears. Here’s to you, Colton!)”
See more of Geoffrey’s photos here