HERAT, Afghanistan -- A Taliban sentry fired the first shots shortly after 2:30 a.m. as Afghan commandos and U.S. Special Operations Command troops surrounded the compound at Aziz Abad. Though the Marine Special Operations Team had employed a daring deception to achieve surprise, they were engaged heavily by gunfire from AK-47s and machine guns almost immediately after deploying at the objective.
For the next 2 1/2 hours, the 207th Afghan Commandos and their U.S. Army and Marine counterparts were in a running gunfight with heavily armed Taliban fighters inside the walled compound. When enemy combatants on rooftops and in narrow alleyways could not be dislodged by fire from U.S. and Afghan troops on the ground, they were hit by supporting fire from manned and unmanned aircraft overhead.
By dawn Aug. 22, it appeared that the commandos and their American advisers had achieved a stunning success. Credible information received after a "Shura" -- a town meeting with local tribal leaders -- had revealed the timing and location of a Taliban gathering. The intelligence was confirmed painstakingly, and U.S. Special Operations Command officers sat down with their Afghan commando counterparts to carefully plan a "capture-kill mission" with the goal of taking several key Taliban leaders into custody. Fox News cameraman Chris Jackson and I accompanied the raid force.
To us -- and the U.S. and Afghan troops we were covering -- it appeared as if they were victorious. Though one U.S. Marine had been wounded in the fray, a senior Taliban leader and 25 of his fighters were dead. A major Taliban arms cache was located and destroyed. Weapons, ammunition, communications equipment, materials for making improvised explosive devices, and thousands of dollars in cash had been confiscated.
As the commandos withdrew from the objective shortly after sunrise, they gently treated and evacuated a woman and her child who had been wounded in the crossfire. Our Fox News cameras had captured the battle on videotape -- including the careful treatment of noncombatants. Unfortunately, the good news quickly turned bad.
While we were en route back to the base from which the raid had been launched, the U.S. ground force commander received a report over the radio that pro-Taliban agitators already were asserting that "the Americans (had) killed 30 civilians." The claims and alleged number of civilian casualties quickly escalated.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.