The battle for Shal Mountain, named Operation Rugged Sarak, went from October 8-15, 2011. Shal Mountain sat above Shal Valley and controlled two important supply routes, one vital to coalition forces for resupply and one critical to insurgent smuggling between Pakistan and Afghanistan.


The insurgents controlled the mountain for years, but the men of Bastard Company, 2-27th Infantry Regiment, decided to finally take it from them after the insurgents used it to attack two convoys, killing one Bravo soldier in each of the attacks. The battle for the summit would rage for eight days.

Spc. Jeffrey A. Conn was the medic that responded to the second convoy attack as well as the medic on top of Shal Mountain during the fight for the summit. On the mountaintop, he would earn a Silver Star for saving the lives of at least nine U.S. and Afghan soldiers while also taking the lives of many insurgents — at least 12 in a single attack.

October 11

Conn began the climb up the mountain on Oct. 8 with the rest of first platoon. While a dozen men ran up the mountain carrying minimal gear to begin constructing an outpost that morning, Conn and the bulk of the American platoon arrived on Oct. 11 after fighting up the mountain with the platoon's heavy weapons and special equipment. Americans on the mountaintop still only numbered 23.

The enemy had made multiple attempts to take the summit before the rest of the platoon arrived, but on the night of Oct. 11 they attacked hard to try and keep the new arrivals from digging in. Using the terrain to sneak up in the dark, insurgents closed to within five meters of the perimeter and began an attack that opened with 12 machine guns firing into the small base. RPGs and recoilless rifle rounds pelted the defenders as they took cover and attempted to return fire.

A 101st Airborne Division medic engages targets in the Shal Valley in 2010. Photo: US Army Army Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell

Conn took fire inside his firing position, but still further exposed himself by climbing out of it to check on other members of the platoon. After making a circuit to treat the wounded in their positions, he moved to the mortar pit and assisted in firing 60mm rounds against enemy positions while fully exposed to the continuing sniper fire. When the enemy came within range, he again threw fragmentation grenades into the advancing forces.

Combined with M4 fire from the platoon sergeant, this effort killed the suicide bombers before they could breach the OP. The enemy survivors soon began retreating into Pakistan.

In total during the Battle of Shal Mountain, 115 enemy fighters were confirmed killed and the U.S. lost two soldiers: the flight medic from the mountaintop and a wolfhound operator who was working near the middle of the mountain.

(h/t to Matt Millham of Stars and Stripes who wrote about this battle from the point of view of Staff Sgt. Anthony Fuentes, platoon sergeant for Spc. Conn. Staff Sgt. Fuentes also received the Silver Star for his leadership during the battle.)

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