Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – For two evenings in a row, intruders challenged the defenses of the U.S. base in southern Afghanistan. And both nights, Lt. Darren McDonough’s men did their best to keep them from breaching the base’s perimeter.

Gunmen came within 30 feet of U.S. positions on Wednesday in an apparently well-organized attack on the base that left both McDonough and Spc. Timothy Bates slightly wounded.

The base’s defenses were tested again on Thursday night when McDonough’s troops spotted a vehicle with three passengers about a mile southwest of the base. U.S. troops fired flares, one of which started a large fire that later died out.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve got stuff going on all the time and we can’t do a thing about it – until they fire on us,” Staff Sgt. Chris P. Sheffield of Mobile, Ala., said Friday. He said the troops know hostile forces are probing their positions.

According to McDonough, about six attackers working in three teams of two worked their way to within 30 feet of his platoon’s position on Wednesday night.

“They weren’t scared and if they were, they were pretty well controlled because they hung in there a long time and they kept up some intense and sustained fire,” McDonough said. “They were pretty disciplined.”

McDonough was checking on his men in one of the base’s guard bunkers when the gunmen opened fire from two directions.

“I don’t know if the gunmen had night vision equipment, but if they didn’t they must have had some hellified eyes that could see in the dark – their fire was that intense, that accurate,” McDonough said, pinching his fingers together to show the nearness of the bullets.

Bates said the rounds began striking the bunker and the soldiers returned fire with a heavy machine gun.

“Mostly we were just angry when they fired at us,” he said. “At one point I began to feel a burning sensation in my hand and when I held the pistol grip of my weapon it felt sticky with my own blood and I realized that I’d been hit in the hand.”

McDonough, who had left the bunker to return to his command post where he could radio his platoon, was grazed in the neck by a bullet as he sprinted from one covered position to another.

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“I was only grazed, but the force of the round spun me around before I fell,” he said.

Cpl. Anthony Mata, hearing on the radio that McDonough had been shot, left his own position, which was also under fire, to rescue him.

“Everyone says that it was a great thing that I did,” said Mata, a 21-year-old from Houston. “But it’s really what they train us for and I think any one of us would have done the same.”

The firefight lasted 15 to 20 minutes. It was the most intense attack on the heavily guarded airfield at Kandahar since Jan. 10, when gunmen opened fire as a transport plane carrying 20 al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners took off for the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“This reminds them that this is a very dangerous place and that we are not living on our timeline while we’re in Afghanistan,” said Col. Frank Wiercinski, the base commander. “We’re living on their timeline.”

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