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California Guard troops attacked in Afghanistan

Spec. Kathy Tanson, the only woman among the Guard soldiers, raked one of the ambush sites with machine gun fire as the troops battled Taliban fighters.

December 20, 2009|By Tony Perry | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • Army Spec. Kathy Tanson, 20, of Corning in Northern California, helped repel a double ambush.
Army Spec. Kathy Tanson, 20, of Corning in Northern California, helped… (Tony Perry, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Dubai — A California Army National Guard group was attacked Saturday by a "complex double-ambush" from Taliban fighters along a treacherous mountain road in eastern Afghanistan while the unit was returning from helping farmers in isolated villages, the Army reported today.

The Californians' slow-moving six-vehicle convoy was attacked by two groups of Taliban firing medium machine guns and AK-47s. Most of the vehicles were hit and one was slightly disabled with a flattened tire and a bullet hole in the windshield, the Army reported.

The Guard soldiers, from the 40th Infantry Division, returned fire at the groups, one in a cave in the mountain, another hiding across the Kunar River. The U.S. estimates that 15 to 20 Taliban were engaged in the ambush.

Spec. Kathy Tanson, the only woman among the Guard soldiers on the convoy, raked one of the ambush sites with fire from a 50-caliber machine gun mounted atop one of the U.S. vehicles.

There were no reported injuries among the California group. Infantry soldiers from the 1st battalion, 32nd regiment were quickly ordered into the area and engaged in an hourlong firefight with the Taliban, again with no U.S. casualties, the Army reported. Artillery and aircraft also pounded the Taliban positions.

The California group is part of a Pentagon agribusiness development program to win support from rural villagers by helping them improve the yield of their crops and the health of their livestock.

The troops had gone to the village of Karay in Kunar Province to hold an inoculation program for 400-plus cattle, goats, donkeys and sheep. To get to the site, their convoy had to venture along a winding, boulder-strewn 60-mile road, which follows the wide, fast-moving river.

The road is littered with three dozen wrecks of civilian convoys destroyed by Taliban attacks in recent months or by drivers' inability to negotiate sharp turns. Kunar Province has been the scene of some of the most intense fighting between U.S. troops and the Taliban -- including one attack on an outpost that killed eight U.S. soldiers.

The livestock vaccination program occurred Thursday and the attack came Saturday as the troops were returning to their home at Forward Operating Base Wright.

Tanson, 20, from Corning in Northern California, volunteered to be part of the unit because of her expertise in farming techniques and managing livestock. All 64 members of the team are volunteers.

Lt. Robert Parry, spokesman for the California unit, who was in the convoy, said the attack will not deter the agribusiness development team from venturing to other villages to help with irrigation, crop rotation, and livestock management.

"It's our intent to go where we're needed," Parry said by cellular telephone. "This is the not the first time we've been shot at. This goes with the territory. We have a soft mission in a hard area."

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