The Ingenious Way A Pilot Figured Out Who To Shoot When Insurgents Attacked Wearing Army Uniforms

A year ago, 15 heavily-armed insurgents wearing Army uniforms
breached Camp Bastion in Afghanistanand leveled an assault on the airfield, causing destruction unlike anything
seen since Tet in Vietnam.

U.S. Marines on Bastion — largely thought to be impenetrable — reacted immediately. The gunfight lasted hours, resulting in the deaths of all but one insurgent, the loss of two Marines, and injuries to many others.

In this month’s GQ, Matthieu Aikins wrote what we think is the best, most thorough account of that gunfight.

In it, he details how a key decision helped pilots find and destroy the enemy:

The trouble was distinguishing friend from foe. The attackers were wearing U.S. Army uniforms, and they were mixed in with Marine positions. Lightfoot radioed for another one of his Cobra pilots, Major Robert Weingart, to swoop down and take a closer look.

With a Huey gunship flying on his tail, Weingart darted in and out of the columns of smoke, trying to decipher the pinpricks of light below in the green field of his night vision. Are those muzzle flashes, or rounds cooking off, or what? His wingman’s voice crackled over the radio: “Hey, we’ve got reports of insurgents in the cryogenics facility on the east side of the road.” Weingart flew above the barren ground between the fence line and the airfield to take a look. There was definitely someone shooting from that position, but he couldn’t be sure, even with his night vision, who it was. He couldn’t risk strafing friendlies. Then he had an idea: He radioed the base operations center and directed the ground troops to fire in unison on the enemy’s position. He’d use the gunfire, glowing in his night vision, to point the way to the enemy. Within minutes the quick-reaction force unleashed a bright green string of tracers onto the cryo facility. Target confirmed. Weingart lined up the Cobra on an attack run and let loose a long burst of explosive 20-millimetre cannon rounds.

Aikens’ write up contains many other impressive details — like how Prince Harry was whisked away to a safe house moments after fighters breached the wire — so we encourage anyone who’s interested to give it a read.


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