I have been meaning to start a monthly series called Mission of the Month, where I interview my good SOF buddies and talk to them about their favorite or most intense objective they have ever been on overseas.

This month I spoke to my best friend who begged me to use “King Cobra” as his incognito call-sign for this story. I told him I can meet him half way and call him “KC” for this article. KC and myself served together in the 3rd Ranger Battalion and after we both left he went on to the PMC side of the business.

The story he shared with me is of an objective he participated on as a private contractor late last year working in Afghanistan as part of the country’s counter-narcotics efforts.

Mission of the Month: The Afghan Drug War

Date: October 30th, 2011

Place: Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan

Objective: Find and destroy a Taliban operated heroin producing facility

Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan
Tarin Kowt, Oruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan

It was a day time raid, unique for special operations forces who primarily operate in the dead of night. Four heavily armed MI-17 helicopters traveled in close formation. They carried an assault force that included roughly 40 members from Australia’s Special Operations Task Group, most of which were SASR troops, a U.S. DEA FAST team of 8 special agents, and another 8 members of the Afghan Narcotics Interdiction Unit (NIU).

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Their mission was to conduct a direct action raid against a drug producing compound believed to be held by Taliban forces. The assault force was told to expect a hot LZ, also known as a “Cherry LZ.”

The helicopter force was comprised of two helicopters operated by an entire crew of U.S. military contractors, and another two helicopters that were manned by Afghanistan’s new special operations helicopter unit based on our own 160th SOAR. All four helicopters were heavily armed with mounted PKMs, as well as mini-guns and a full crew to spread the hate. KC was one of these crew members.

Not long after the infiltration, the Australian-led assault force began to take small arms fire from the main target compound and nearby hills. But according to KC, it was sporadic and harassing in nature. After silencing the enemy fighters the coalition unit assaulted the main compound and did in fact find a sophisticated chemical lab used to create the materials which in turn creates the heroin from the poppy seeds.

By this time the four helicopters flew to a nearby Forward Operating Base to use as a staging area, as it is not tactically wise to have four helicopters linger over a hostile objective in the middle of the day. The DEA agents destroyed the lab, and, after about an hour on the ground, the assault force called the helicopters in for exfil.

This is what the Taliban were waiting for – the return of the helicopters. According to KC, the moment the helos re-entered the valley they were engaged by a massive volume of small arms fire from previously unknown enemy positions in the surrounding hills who spent the last hour watching the ground force.

When I asked KC about the return fire from the helicopters: “From the time we entered the valley to the moment we landed on the LZ to pick up the guys, every single weapon system was being fired towards the hills.

The helicopters were on the ground for roughly two minutes as all the personnel began consolidating into the birds under the heavy enemy fire. The enemy fighters were believed to be firing AK-47s, PKMs, and RPGs towards the helos as the men ran up the ramps. “At this point of the exfil and during the overall objective none of the birds were severely damaged nor did we suffer any casualties.”

Moments later, one of the DEA Agents was maybe 10 feet from the back ramp about to load onto the bird when an enemy round struck him in the helmet and penetrated his skull. The severely wounded agent had to be treated and stabilized on the spot before his comrades carried him into the only remaining bird on the ground, which was operated by the Afghan military unit.

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SA Piersante on a counter-narcotics operation in Afghanistan

Knowing they spent too much time stationary and were clearly being targeted by the enemy fighters, every single crew member engaged the Taliban until the heavily armed bird was completely dry on ammo.

With the wounded agent safely on board the remaining helicopter sped towards the nearest allied field hospital, located in Tarin Kowt, literally touching down onto the nearest landing zone without asking for the proper clearance.

According to KC, the bravery of the Afghan pilots and crew members who engaged the enemy fighters and their speedy evacuation of the wounded agent are deserving of the highest award. DEA FAST Agent Joe Piersante survived the gunshot wound but is permanently blinded due to the damage.

KC standing in front of his MI-17. Wearing my Rhodesian Vest which he refuses to give back.