Operation Red Wings is widely regarded as one of the most intense and harrowing battles of the war in Afghanistan, and it remains a powerful symbol of the bravery and sacrifice of U.S. service members. But one of the unsung heroes of the story is Afghani truck driver Mohammad Gulab.
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In the rugged and unforgiving terrain of the Hindu Kush mountains, a group of four Navy SEALs embarked on a perilous mission to extract intelligence on a high-level Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah. Their mission, codenamed “Operation Red Wings,” would prove to be one of the most intense battles in the history of the war in Afghanistan.
The story of Operation Red Wings was later turned into a book, “Lone Survivor,” by Marcus Luttrell and a movie starring Mark Wahlberg. But in the midst of this chaos, one man emerged as a true hero – an Afghan timber truck driver named Mohammad Gulab.
“These men of the special forces have had other options in their lives, other paths, easier paths they could have taken. But they took the hardest path, that narrow causeway that is not for the sunshine patriot. They took the one for the supreme patriot, the one that may require them to lay down their lives for the United States of America.”Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor
Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, Petty Officer Second Class Danny Dietz, Petty Officer Second Class Matthew Axelson, and Petty Officer Second Class Marcus Luttrell made up the team of brave soldiers who put their lives on the line to carry out this dangerous mission. But when their helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, they found themselves outnumbered and outgunned by a large force of enemy fighters.
The four Seals fought bravely: As Taliban fighters were firing on them, they were forced to jump down the cliffs and were shot and injured in the process, and as they fled down the rugged rock faces of the Hindu Kush Mountains, they had to make leaps of 20-30 feet.
The fierce battle that ensued would claim the lives of three of the four team members, leaving only Marcus Luttrell to fight for his survival in the face of overwhelming odds.
“Marcus Luttrell shattered three of his vertebrae during a fall and broke his nose during another. Lt. Murphy sacrificed his life radioing for reinforcements. Dietz died of a bullet wound to the head while Luttrell was carrying him on his shoulder. He died in Luttrell’s arms,” according to TIME Magazine.
Luttrell had suffered multiple gunshot wounds and had a broken back, but he still managed to crawl into a crevasse in the snowy Hindu Kush Mountains.
“Lutrell limped to a pool of water, wounded and with shrapnel in his leg. He licked the sweat off his body to survive,” according to TIME Magazine. A timber truck driver named Mohammed Gulab found him, took him back to his village. “The village protected him because of an ancient moral code to which they ascribe that dictates you must not only shelter and feed a wounded loner but also protect him against his enemies.” Gulab worked to get the shrapnel out of his leg.
The Taliban attacked Gulab’s village, but the Afghanis warded them off. And even as the Taliban threatened the villagers lives, Gulab remained Luttrell’s unwavering ally, providing him with shelter, food, and medical care until he was finally rescued by a team of U.S. Army Rangers.
The Taliban hunted Gulab for a decade because of the help he gave Luttrell. As they pursued him, he was wounded by a grenade, in another instance his daughter was hurt in an explosion targeted at his home, and in yet another incident his nephew was killed.
Luttrell would work to bring Gulab to America to protect him from the further vengeance of the Taliban. Despite the hardships that Gulab faced, in an interview in the United States with Gulab and Luttrell through translators both men would say, “I love you.”
The story of Mohammad Gulab, the savior of the Lone Survivor, is one of courage, sacrifice, and selflessness. It is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Afghan people and the unbreakable bonds that can form between those who fight for a common cause, even in the darkest of times.
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