The mission was Afghan-led and -run with 10 or so American soldiers bringing up the rear.
It was exactly the kind of mission the Afghan National Army would need to carry out, as U.S. forces begin their drawdown across the country. It was also a perfect test case for the key question at this stage of the war: Can the Afghans go it alone?
We set out early this morning from the small base at Kala Gush, the only base for U.S. forces in Nuristan Province. With the Afghans in the lead, the troops moved through the first village without incident -- the Americans in their support role, watching and waiting.
"OK, let's go up there," said Capt. Marcus Morgan of XXXX. "That's a Taliban flag right there."
The Afghan forces were just leaving that first village, marching along a mountain ridge about five miles from Kala Gush, when the first bursts of incoming fire came.
"Where's that coming from?" someone said over the radio.
Taliban fighters -- perhaps lying in waiting -- had ambushed the Afghan troops along the ridge. The Afghan troops fired back, beginning a sustained firefight that lasted about 10 minutes.
Because of a new mandate allowing U.S. forces to only give advice, soldiers stayed back, forcing the Afghan troops to make decisions on their own.
But with with mortars and heavy machine-gun fire surrounding the troops -- and tempers flaring among the Afghans -- one Afghan commander asked the Americans for air support.
Within minutes (?) the Afghan forces had power from the air; the airstrikes came and appeared to end the battle.
Back at Kala Gush, this much was clear: The Afghan forces -- in our view, but more importantly in the view of the Americans -- had performed well, and with bravery.
One observer who'd seen the Afghan forces up close about two years ago, described a sea change in their abilities and professionalism. One American soldier said that on a scale of 1-10 he would give the Afghans a "6" for their performance today -- a very high grade, given past performance.
Still, the fact at the end of the day was that air power was needed to end the firefight -- and that a Taliban ambush had halted the mission before it was completed.
As for casualty counts, at least one Afghan soldier was wounded, one villager was killed by the Taliban and an unknown number of Taliban were killed and wounded, from the firefight and the American strike that was called in.