KABUL, Afghanistan – I saw the face of terror today. You know what? It wasn't that terrible.
Don't get me wrong. What the young man was trying to do was about as terrible as you can imagine: He was trying to hurl several hand grenades at a passing military convoy and kill as many American soldiers as possible.
Luckily, the soldiers of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (search), thought fast. Pfc. Jamie Burns of Williamstown, New Jersey, leaned out of his Humvee jeep, shot and killed the young man, potentially saving the lives of many. More on the face of terror in a moment ... for now, more on the events of the day.
The soldiers of Bravo Battery were driving back from two hard days on the road in Khost Province (search), eastern Afghanistan. They were within a half mile of reaching the safety of their base when they came upon a man, around 21 years old, who was squatting along the side of the road.
When the convoy rode by, the man got up, pulled the pin from the grenade he was carrying and threw it at a truck-full of soldiers.
The grenade bounced off the side of the truck and didn't explode. "I thought it was a rock," Sgt. Bobbie Williams, who was ahead of the action in the convoy, remarked. "And then I heard a boom." The guy apparently had picked up the live grenade and threw it in the air again.
This time, it exploded halfway between him and the truck, sending shrapnel flying and cutting the hand of one of the soldiers. But he wasn't finished. He then pulled out a second hand grenade, pulled the pin, and was ready to throw that at the next vehicle, the Humvee of Jamie Burns, when Burns drew that bead on him. But that wasn't the end of it.
Two other people were seen running from the scene, possibly into a nearby compound.
The soldiers circled the compound, calling in with loudspeakers, ready to storm in if the suspects didn't come out.
It turned out all that was inside was a slew of weaponry.
A massive manhunt later turned up two guys with stories that didn't seem to jive. They were brought in for questioning.
Then there was another group of people who lived in the area. They were brought one by one before the victim to see if anyone could identify him.
Surprise: No one had ever seen him before. But as they looked at the man...I looked, too. His white clothing was stained with blood from the attack (some from U.S. bullets, some from his own hand grenades). He had a bit of a beard but also gentle features.
He was not as menacing-looking as a lot of other folks you see here in Afghanistan.
He wasn't smiling or frowning, and his eyes were wide open, looking up at the sky. Maybe at the place someone said he would be transported to if he did this act. That's the thing.
Even though the troops found Toyota car keys, some kind of a school schedule and a few Pakistani Rupees in his pockets, he was obviously on a different wavelength.
Whether it was fanaticism, or money or drugs, this person was on a different plane. He picked the most open, obvious place to attack a heavily armed military convoy.
What's more, he didn't run or flinch during the attack. As Capt. Shane Morgan, the Bravo Battery commander, put it: "The guy knew that he was on a suicide mission. We helped deliver him to his fate."