Gen Petraeus hails Paras for precision attack
Two Afghan civilians survived unscathed as bombs and bullets rained down on Taliban during a "precision strike" campaign being run by the 3rd Bn The Parachute Regiment.
Gen Petraeus undertook an urgent fact-finding visit to the Paras and praised the attacks as "the most impressive way to do business".
The American commander has adopted the mantra "ruthless prosecution of targets" since arriving in Afghanistan but has faced obstacles from subordinates worried over civilian casualties.
His trip was prompted after the Paras carried out five "sigacts" – significant actions – in the last four weeks that have led to the death of more than 40 Taliban and capture of a dozen including a shadow Taliban governor.
In the action surveillance technology picked up an unusually large number of armed insurgents assembling north of their former stronghold of Ghazni Street as C Company, 3 Para approached across open ground.
At 3 Para headquarters in Shahzad, three miles away, commanders frantically summoned an Apache attack helicopter to come on station as an unmanned drone's camera showed the insurgents preparing to attack.
"We held a rapid targeting meeting," said Major Peter Flynn, 3 Para's Chief of Staff. "The threat was imminent and decision had to be made on the lives of insurgents within 60 seconds.
"But we have to bear in mind that the prosecution of enemy targets must not be at the expense of a single civilian casualty."
Footage of the attack showed the first Hellfire anti-tank missile targeted two men carrying a heavy machine gun. One fighter looked up directly up to the sky a split second before the rocket hit.
The surrounding group of Taliban dispersed in several directions with a large group sheltering in an outbuilding being used as an armoury.
Three minutes after the first strike an insurgent can be seen standing at the door of the building a second before the second Hellfire anti-tank missile struck, demolishing the room. It was later discovered 10 insurgents had been sheltering inside.
The men of C Company then began a rapid assault towards the Taliban-held compounds. The footage showed the Paras getting ready for an "explosive entry" into a compound while in the top right-hand corner Taliban can be seen hiding. Three or four insurgents were killed in the subsequent gun-battle on Saturday.
A middle-aged couple were later found sheltering in a compound that held Taliban but the building was not attacked by the Apache as commanders could not be certain it was clear of civilians.
Earlier in the month the Paras witnessed four civilian fatalities, including three children, killed when insurgents fired a rifle grenade into a compound during a firefight. Fragmentation taken from the victims proved the grenade was foreign made. Since then the soldiers have been "acutely sensitive" about civilian casualties.
In the Ghazni Street attack the troops recovered seven PKM machine guns, hand-held radios and importantly an AK47 equipped with an under-slung grenade launcher, similar to the one used in the attack that killed the civilians three weeks earlier.
A minimum amount of ordnance was used to kill the Taliban. Two Hellfire missiles and 80 cannon rounds were fired by the Apache and about 100 bullets shot by C Company.
The precision strikes have also led to a significant drop in artillery fire with 81mm mortar rounds used falling by half and 105mm shells dropping to a fifth of previous levels.