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Close air support protects coalition forces, kills 70 insurgents

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F-15E Strike Eagles from the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 121st EFS dropped more than 9,000 pounds of munitions through severe weather on enemy forces trying to overrun a combat outpost in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Nov. 8.

According to reports, up to 70 Taliban were killed while attacking COP Margah in a large scale coordinated attack. Coalition forces were first alerted to the attack when rocket-propelled grenades began to hit the camp. Shortly thereafter, the insurgents attacked the camp from multiple positions using small arms and RPG fire.

Staff Sgt. Seth Pena, a joint terminal attack controller with the 817th Expeditionary Air Support Operations Squadron, was responsible for calling in close air support when the fighting began. He employed weapons from Navy F-18s, who were already overhead and then immediately requested a "Dude flight" of F-15s and a "Viper flight" of F-16s from Bagram Airfield.

"I requested the Dudes and Vipers because I needed a lot of ordnance and fast," Pena said. "RPGs had already hit inside the COP and things were getting serious. There was a large enemy force moving towards us from multiple positions, and we were taking a heavy amount of small arms fire."

Capt. Krista Clayson, a 335th EFS weapons system officer, was one of the "Dudes" in the air coordinating with Pena to put bombs on target.

"We could tell things were very intense on the ground," Clayson said. "As soon as we arrived on station, the JTAC had a 'nine-line' ready for us and we had bombs off the aircraft very quickly."

A nine-line is a standard brief that provides close air support crews with information on the upcoming mission.

Maj. Todd Dyer, a 335th EFS F-15E pilot, was the flight lead in "Dude 21."

"There was a large enemy force and the JTAC wanted multiple weapons in a north-south pattern on enemy fighters," Dyer said. "We ended up dropping four weapons on the first pass and then quickly received another nine-line on an enemy structure they were using to fire from. So we dropped a 2,000-pound bomb and three 500-pound bombs, all with good effects."

Due to severe weather in area, the jets were forced to fly above cloud level, which caused them to rely heavily on the JTAC for targeting information. According to Dyer, it was a challenging endeavor.

"We are able to employ precision weapons through the weather, which is one of the benefits of having GPS weapons," Dyer said. "It's a very disciplined type of attack to get weapons on target efficiently. We weren't able to use our targeting pods due to weather and had to trust what the JTAC was passing us. There was a lot of coordination and confirmation that happened in a short amount of time before we dropped, and everything worked out well."

After the Dude flight dropped their first two sets of munitions, Pena identified enemy personnel in an open area advancing on the COP and called for a 500-pound weapon that eliminated the target.

"My number one mission is to do everything I can to ensure zero coalition casualties and eliminate as many insurgents as possible," Pena said. "Where Dude flight dropped the bombs, it accomplished the ground commander's intent, which makes me feel good."

Capt. DeShane Greaser, an Army infantry commander at COP Margah, said close air support was critical to the joint fight that day.

"CAS was important to this operation because when fighters arrive on station, the insurgents can't run away fast enough," Greaser said. "On this particular night, they believed the heavy cloud cover and fog would prevent CAS from blowing them up -- it did not."

Greaser's Soldiers were heavily engaged with enemy forces from multiple directions, repelling them with small arms fire and mortar rounds when the first bombs dropped.

"The initial bombs dropped effectively changed the insurgent's minds about continuing the attack." Greaser said.

The first bombs dropped had an even more significant impact to Taliban forces than was at first apparent, according to Pena.

"There was a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device heading to the COP, and after the first bombs hit, we got reports that the enemy said, 'We're turning around, there are jets overhead."'

Pena said having fighters overhead provided the ground commanders with tremendous confidence.

"When CAS is overhead, I have a very powerful asset," Pena said. "With fighters overhead, there is no chance they're going to overrun us. The Dudes and Viper flights are my favorite to work with because they perform exactly how I need them and everything happens very fast."

Dyer and Clayson both expressed their satisfaction with being able to save the lives of coalition forces on the ground.

"Of all the missions we do, and I've done multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the missions supporting the guys on the ground are by far the most rewarding," said Dyer, a third-generation fighter pilot. "You feel the best about yourself when you help save coalition lives while deterring the enemy."

Clayson echoed the pilot's words.

"It's an awesome feeling," she said. "At the time we didn't realize the attack was as big as it was. But when you find out that all the training and hard work you put into this results in saving so many lives and eliminating that number of insurgents ... it's a very rewarding feeling."

At the end of the day, ground forces and close air support assets worked together to kill between 50 and 70 insurgents while sustaining zero coalition or civilian casualties.

Article by Staff Sgt. John Wright, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs