Exclusive: Anatomy of a Taliban Ambush

Taliban attack teams ambush Marines as they return to base outside Marja.

ByABC News
June 25, 2010, 6:38 AM

MARJA, Afghanistan, June 25, 2010— -- In Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province this morning, a Marine squad headed into one of the Marja district's many villages looking to make friends.

"With us out here, it lets the locals know we are on their side," said Sgt. Travis Dawson, squad leader of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines. "We can help them."

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But on the streets, they were met with an icy reception. As Dawson spoke to ABC News, a villager slammed a door shut and loudly bolted the lock. Another told the Marines that everyone was at work, and then he rushed off.

Locals that did accept help from the Americans seemed fearful. Children hesitantly took stuffed animals that were handed to them, and an old man rolled away a blanket that was given to him, afraid to accept anything.

The Marines noticed a man down the road watching them, and two residents quietly and almost secretively indicated that the Taliban were watching.

"This doesn't feel right," one Marine said to another.

The air thick with tension, the squad started to head back to base rather than get caught up in a conflict.

In a counterinsurgency fight, the rules of engagement for Marines are restrictive, and the Taliban knows it.

"They have to shoot at us first," Dawson said as he walked.

Just a few steps later, shots rang out.

"Where's that coming from?" shouted a Marine. "Is that direct north or northeast?"

"Oh s**t. F***," said another. "Looks like it's coming from both sides."

Everytime the Marines moved, the Taliban took aim, firing from multiple directions. One small team shot at the Marines while another moved around, assuming the next attack position.

The squad slowly ratcheted up their response, launching a grenade and silencing the Taliban's gunfire. As quickly as it started, it appeared to be over.

"You hear that whiz? That's a ricochet going through the trees and that's the round spinning," said Lance Corporal Michael Acquaviva.

But the Taliban wasn't done yet. The sound of incoming bullets filled the air again.