U.S. troops fought on foot in town’s takeover

MUSA QALA, Afghanistan (AP) — Chinook helicopters dropped Capt. Don Canterna’s company of soldiers on the dusty outskirts of Musa Qala as evening fell. Loaded down with weapons, food, and water, his men walked through the night.

Twelve hours later, daybreak found the 82nd Airborne paratroopers facing a line of mud-brick homes — and the first barrage of Taliban bullets fired from hiding places the Americans couldn’t see.

“As the sun was coming up was when we first started getting contact,” said Canterna, 28, of Lake Geneva, Wis.

For the 600 paratroopers who air assaulted into northern Helmand province, the Dec. 8 sunrise ambush was the first volley in what battalion commander Lt. Col. Brian Mennes said was almost 72 hours of continuous fighting.

On Dec. 11, after U.S. troops had closed in on Musa Qala’s outskirts, Afghan soldiers poured into town, allowing NATO and Afghan officials to say the country’s fledgling army had retaken the Taliban-held enclave, a major symbolic victory.

But American troops still stationed in Musa Qala more than a month after the battle said they in fact did the majority of the fighting, and some chafed a bit that U.S., NATO and Afghan officials downplayed their role.

Why the U.S. troops never got much credit for their role in the battle has to do with NATO’s strategy to empower the Afghan army. It’s in NATO’s interest for Afghans to believe their army is strong, dependable and experienced.