A special operations Marine was awarded the Silver Star for assaulting a bunker and recovering a wounded Afghan soldier during a four-hour gun battle with more than a dozen Taliban fighters in Afghanistan last year.
The Marine master sergeant, whose name was withheld, was a team chief with 2nd Marine Raider Battalion during the battle, Marine Forces Special Operations Command said in a statement Tuesday.
Three other team members earned Bronze Stars for valor during the operation, in which three enemy commanders were killed.
“The entire team remained calm, concise over the radios,” the unnamed team leader was quoted as saying. “They were controlled, efficient, synchronized and ultimately brutally lethal to end that fight.”
Marine Corps photos showed the master sergeant critical skills operator, his face blurred, receiving the military’s third-highest personal award for combat heroism Friday at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“During a heliborne raid into difficult enemy-controlled terrain in southern Afghanistan, he led his team of Marine Raiders and partner nation forces in four hours of close combat with more than a dozen Taliban fighters occupying defensive strongholds,” the statement said, citing the award’s narrative.
He took fire to lead the assault across 30 meters of open terrain, attacking Taliban fighters in a bunker with his rifle and hand grenades, before again braving accurate enemy fire to climb atop a building and set a roof charge in order to recover the wounded Afghan.
“With enemy fighters barricaded just a few feet away, he heroically pulled the wounded man to a covered position in a valiant attempt to save his life, while allowing his team to engage the barricaded fighters with fragmentation grenades,” the statement said.
Other team members attacked with small arms fire, grenades and shoulder-fired rockets to suppress or destroy the enemy positions, it said.
Another critical skills operator, a special operations capability specialist and a special operations officer each earned Bronze Star Medals with Valor devices.
“The combined efforts of this Marine Raider team resulted in the complete destruction of a determined enemy, including three high-value enemy commanders,” MARSOC said.
The statement did not identify the location of the battle. But the Marines have a long history in Helmand province, the Taliban’s heartland and the deadliest province for coalition forces in the history of the war, now in its 19th year.
Thousands served there before the large-scale withdrawal of U.S. combat forces at the end of 2014. Hundreds of Marines returned in early 2017 after a Taliban resurgence.
The U.S. recently completed its latest drawdown from some 13,000 troops to around 8,600 under the terms of a peace agreement signed with the Taliban on Feb. 29. The militants have since largely avoided attacking U.S. forces.
A full withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces could come as soon as the middle of next year if the Taliban meet certain conditions, such as cutting ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
For the Marine Raiders, however, the grueling 2019 raid was “not an isolated incident,” the team leader said.
“This is the incident we are recognizing these guys for, but this happened multiple times with the same, if not very similar circumstances, and many of the Marines being honored today did the exact same actions and performed just as well multiple times,” he said. “You guys humbled me throughout the entire deployment.”
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