As the world watched President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan unfold in real time, American troops on the ground were left facing an even more horrific reality than what was being shown in the media.
While our woke generals were seemingly busy putting together progressive reading lists, the Afghan National Army was collapsing as rapidly as the government of the country itself and failing to delay the Taliban’s march toward the capital. Allied cover for retreating Americans was virtually nonexistent, and when our troops finally arrived to evacuate the country at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, they found a desperate airlift that had neither the speed nor capacity needed to ferry everyone away.
By late August, all these factors coalesced to create a nightmare situation at the airport. The Taliban sat outside of the airport’s walls, trapping Americans and allied troops inside in a brutal reversal of two decades of asymmetrical warfare.
For American troops holding the line just yards away from the Taliban, there was another uncomfortable fact.
Some of the first U.S. soldiers to arrive at the airport were members of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who got there well before their heavy equipment. As Taliban fighters encircled the walled compound, it became clear that anything outside the barriers was never going to materialize — everything belonged to the extremists now.
With no heavy machine guns, vehicles, armor or support gear, the Army paratroopers were left with what little small arms and ammo they carried on them.
It was a nightmare scenario. The goliath technological and military advantage that safeguarded our troops for 20 years was gone in a flash. If there were to be a firefight, it would be man-to-man and on brutally equal terms.
“We just had our basic weapons, we didn’t have any heavy machine guns, any gun trucks or anything,” Pfc. Alsajjad Al Lami told Task & Purpose.
Reading the dire situation, Afghan army troops also walled inside decided to retreat to another part of the airport.
Al Lami, who was raised in Iraq and served mandatory service in that country’s military before immigrating to the United States, noticed one of the pieces of equipment being abandoned by the Afghans looked familiar.
It turned out to be a ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun mounted on the bed of a truck. This configuration, known as a technical, is a potent mixture of mobility and firepower. And Al Lami’s time in the Iraqi military meant he knew how to operate this weapon with deadly efficiency.
Approaching Afghan soldiers guarding the truck, Al Lami and his fellow paratroopers discovered the sentries had keys for the vehicle.
After a bit of negotiation, the two groups came to terms on a fair trade: the Americans would hand over two cans of smokeless tobacco, and for this dip, the Afghans would relinquish the technical’s keys.
As painful as losing two cans of tobacco in a stressful situation would have been, seeing this 14.5mm piece of Russian hardware roll up must have been a beautiful sight for the besieged troops.
Watch the video below, taken during the Syrian civil war, to see the impressive speed and firepower of a truck-mounted ZPU-2.
It’s clear that anyone assaulting the airport would beat a hasty retreat if one of these machines whipped around a corner and opened fire.
The soldiers’ tenacity and ingenuity during the defense of the airport were not lost on Lt. Col. Andy Harris, commander of the 504th’s 1st Battalion.
“What the American paratrooper did for those two weeks, most people will probably never know and most won’t care,” Harris told Task & Purpose. “But I know what they did, and it was remarkable. It was a hell of a feat.”
While Biden abandoned countless U.S. arms to the Taliban, the soldiers were not about to let a vehicle they paid for fall into jihadists’ hands. They packed the technical onto a plane and evacuated it out with the last remaining American troops.
Now, the truck has been demilitarized and will sit outside the 82nd Airborne Division’s War Memorial and Museum as a testament to our final bitter days in Afghanistan, and the soldiers who saw their mission through to the very end.
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