LANDSTUHL, Germany – Four U.S. soldiers injured during a bloody Taliban uprising at a fortress in Afghanistan on Saturday received Purple Heart medals from the commanding general of Army Special Forces at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.
Honoring the four servicemen in a ceremony in a small room at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey C. Lambert said that they "have given their blood fighting in the war against terrorism."
"We'll do everything we can to stamp it out," he pledged. Around 20 observers, including a few family members, were present.
The special forces troops were injured during an uprising last week by Taliban prisoners detained at a fortress outside the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. While advising Northern Alliance fighters battling the prisoners, the U.S. service were wounded by an errant U.S. missile that struck near them.
A fifth serviceman wounded in the three-day battle has chosen to receive his Purple Heart with family members when he returns to the United States. He was identified only as Staff Sgt. Mike, a combat controller in the Air Force Special Operational Command.
The five suffered wounds ranging from broken bones to ruptured eardrums. A CIA officer identified as Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed during the battle, the first known U.S. combat casualty in Afghanistan.
After three days, the uprising was suppressed, with nearly all the Taliban prisoners killed.
One of the honored Special Forces men, identified only as U.S. Army Capt. Kevin, was brought into the room in a wheelchair and got up on crutches to receive his Purple Heart. The most seriously injured of the servicemen, he has now been released from intensive care, said Lt. Col. Ed Loomis, a spokesman for U.S. European Command.
At a news conference following Saturday's ceremony, the soldiers declined to comment on how the missile strike went wrong. Staff Sgt. Mike said the incident is "still under investigation."
An Army officer identified only as Capt. Paul — who had small scars around his left eye and on the side of his head — said the group had been ordered to enter the fort as part of an "11-man element." Two of them received wounds from small arms fire and mortar rounds from the Taliban prisoners inside, he said.
When the bomb hit, he said, "everything went brown. I could feel myself flying through the air."
"I flew for a couple of seconds and fell with a thud," he added. "I felt my left leg somehow pinned underneath my back. My biggest worry was that the Taliban would come, but we heard U.S. forces."
The soldiers made their way back over the fortress wall, bolting back to rescue Capt. Kevin, he continued.
"Once over the wall, northern alliance troops helped us back, helicopters came in and we were evacuated to a hospital in a rear area," said Capt. Paul, who said he was "grateful" to be awarded the Purple Heart.
Citing security concerns, the U.S. military declined to give full names of the soldiers and their units, and they wore desert camouflage uniforms without name tags for the ceremony. U.S. European Command spokesman Loomis said they are expected to return to the United States within the next week.
The other soldiers were identified only as 1st Sgt. David and Sgt. 1st Class Paul, both of them of the U.S. Army. Lambert is based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
No details were given on any plans for the injured officers to return to Afghanistan, although Capt. Paul said, "I definitely feel a genuine need to be there with my Special Forces brothers and I want to continue to do my part in the war against terrorism."