Project Hero: MAJ Mark E. Mitchell, Distinguished Service Cross Posted by: McQ
on Saturday, July 29, 2006
You probably remember this incident as the prison revolt in Afghanistan in which CIA agent Johnny Spann lost his life and the world became aware of John Walker Lindh, the wannabe jihadi.
Also there was Special Forces Major Mark E. Mitchell. MAJ Mitchell is the reason the revolt failed. For his action in quelling the revolt and defeating the rearmed Taliban prisoners, MAJ Mitchell was awarded the nation's second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross:
In November 2001, after Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners attempted to seize control of the prison at Mazer-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, the Army Special Forces Major led an effort to quell the revolt and rescue two CIA operatives caught inside the prison. According to an account in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Mitchell moved in to the prison "with no body army or helmet and vastly outnumbered....From a vulnerable position on the wall, he directed air strikes that proved vital in defeating the Taliban fighters at the fortress....Even when an errant bomb injured nine of his men — more than half — he was able to evacuate the injured and direct the remaining soldiers as they repelled the Taliban attacks."
The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded to Major Mark E. Mitchell, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 3d Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), for extraordinary heroism in action during the period of 25 to 28 November 2001, while engaged in combat operations during Operation Enduring Freedom. As the Ground Force Commander of a rescue operation during the Battle of Qala-I-Jang Fortress, Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, Major Mitchell ensured the freedom of one American and the posthumous repatriation of another. His unparalleled courage under fire, decisive leadership and personal sacrifice were directly responsible for the success of the rescue operation and were further instrumental in ensuring the city of Mazar-e-Sharif did not fall back in the hands of the Taliban. His personal example has added yet another laurel to the proud military history of this Nation and serves as the standard for all others to emulate. Major Mitchell's gallant deed was truly above and beyond the call of duty and is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), the United States Army, and the United States of America.
The details of how the bloody battle started are still unconfirmed. However, most reports from eyewitnesses indicate that the three-day conflict erupted when an a Taliban enemy prisoner of war drew a grenade while being searched, pulled the pin and killed himself and a Northern Alliance commander.
The suicide attack triggered the uprising and an estimated 500 Taliban prisoners being held in Qala-I-Jangi, which means “House of War,” stormed two CIA agents working at the facility who were interviewing prisoners. Spann, one of ambushed agents, died at the prison and the other agent escaped.
Mitchell, 38, a Desert Storm veteran, heard of the attack when a Northern Alliance soldier rushed into a facility his unit was preparing for humanitarian workers and told him that he and his men were needed immediately at the prison.
Mitchell organized a team of 16 British and American soldiers and sped to the prison about 25 kilometers away.
When they arrived, Mitchell led his soldiers into battle against prisoners who had armed themselves with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, machine guns, and rifles they collected from armories at the prison. Armed with a rifle and pistol, Mitchell, wearing no body armor and head protection, climbed to the highest point of the fortress to survey the battleground.
From that vantage point, Mitchell’s men began to call in air strikes on the Taliban. Later that evening, Mitchell and his men withdrew from the prison to plan the next day’s operations.
The following morning, Mitchell’s men returned to the fortress and were greeted by a barrage of gunfire. Mitchell and his unit requested more air support, but misfortune struck when a bomb fell near Mitchell’s team injuring nine of his soldiers.
After evacuating his injured men for most of the day, Mitchell returned to the fortress under the cover of darkness with five men and directed more air strikes on the enemy positions. By morning of the third day, most of the prisoners had been killed, and those who remained were killed when the Northern Alliance rolled into the compound with tanks. Other Taliban later killed themselves rather than surrender. John Walker Lindh, the Californian who traveled to Afghanistan to help the Taliban, was captured when the battle ended.
Having the ability and leadership to put together an ad hoc group and confront and succeed against a numerically superior force is an incredible feat of arms. And true to the credo of special operations everywhere, no man was left behind.
Another thing I'd like to note about the professionals we have in our armed forces is their dedication to duty. Since September 11th, 2001, Mitchell, who is now a LTC, has deployed 5 times to the Iraq/Afghanistan theaters. His most recent deployment was that of 8 months which he spent training Iraqi soldiers.
PROJECT HERO is an ongoing attempt to highlight the valor of our military as they fight in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We constantly hear the negative and far to little of the positive and inspiring stories coming out of those countries. This is one small attempt to rectify that. If you know of a story of valor you'd like to see highlighted here (published on Saturday), please contact us. And we'd appreciate your link so we can spread the word.