Afghan citizens save American asset in Panjshir

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Written by U.S. Air Force Captain John T. Stamm Sunday, 20 December 2009 20:11

PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – A Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team truck dangles off the edge of a cliff while PRT members and local residents work to recover the vehicle in Panjshir province, Afghanistan, Dec. 10. The truck was being used to deliver material assistance to a remote village in the Dara district of the Panjshir valley when it slid backward out of control and off of the mountain road. (Photo by U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jeff Kelly, Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team Intelligence Operations) PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan –The adventure began on the cold, wintery morning, Dec. 10, deep in the Hindu Kush Mountains of the Panjshir valley in Afghanistan. The Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team conducted a routine mission to deliver material assistance, such as clothing, food and other supplies to a high-altitude village in the Dara district of the valley.   
It snowed all morning, but temperatures were a bit too warm for it to stick to the road. The convoy departed with three trucks filled with supplies bound for the district center in Dara, assessing the situation and deciding whether to leave the supplies with the district governor for distribution or to continue on our own into more remote regions.

When we arrived, it was still snowing but not heavily. The road was clear up until that point, and, as far as we could see, it was still passable. The forecast said the snows would subside, so the mission commander decided to continue.  

I was in the third truck as we travelled upwards along the road that wrapped along the mountainside. The road was barely wide enough for one vehicle, with the mountain on the left and a significant drop to the river on the right.

In an instant, the situation turned ugly, as the second truck could not maintain enough speed to make it up the now ice-covered road and slid backward.  My truck also began sliding back down the hill. My driver, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jeff Kelly, deliberately slammed our truck into the mountain side to stop our decent. It worked, but the second truck smashed into us.

Both the trucks were now stopped on the mountain road. We checked for any injuries, and, fortunately, there were none. I radioed the first truck, which we had lost sight of, to inform them of the situation.  

“Sir, we are in a predicament,” said Senior Airman Bryan Ulloa, PRT Civil Affairs. “We couldn’t stop and our truck is now dangling off a cliff.”

I arrived to a frightful scene. The truck’s right side was completely off the road with at least a 15-foot drop to the boulders below. Everyone had made it out safely, and some had leapt from the vehicle as it had slid toward the cliff.

With the help of a crowd of local residents who had gathered to lend assistance, we began recovery attempts on the disabled vehicle as we relayed information regarding the situation back to our forward operating base. Help was dispatched, but the weather impeded arrival. As darkness set in, temperatures dropped, and the snow continued to fall, we were forced to abandon the recovery mission.  

“The decision was made to download all sensitive items, such as radio equipment and weapons, and return to base with the hopes that the truck would remain in its current position until we could resume recovery efforts the next morning,” Kelly said.  

That’s when the Panjshir Afghan National Police and the local residents displayed their heroism. Together, they took turns braving the frigid temperatures, cutting winds, and mounting snow-fall to guard the truck all night long, making sure it didn’t fall and no one was injured. When morning came they worked, stone by stone, to build a new rock wall reaching up from the riverbed to stabilize the truck. Then they used wooden logs to push the vehicle back onto the road. The ANP drove to the PRT’s FOB to let us know that our truck was safe and ready for us to retrieve it.

“This is proof that the government and citizens of Panjshir are capable of accomplishing great things,” said U.S. Army Maj. Ian Murray, PRT Operations Officer.  “Not only did they watch over our truck, but they took it upon themselves to make sure we got it back. They put themselves at risk to help us. If it weren’t for their efforts, the PRT would have lost a valuable asset. We are proud to live and work in partnership with all of them.”

When asked why they did it, a local man named Pahlawan who had helped lead the recovery efforts stated simply, “You would do it for us.”