FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Wounded from an explosion inside an ancient Afghan fortress and knowing he could be overrun any second by Taliban soldiers, Capt. Paul said he took comfort knowing Northern Alliance soldiers would help.
"They're our friends, and they're going to take care of us," the 30-year-old Army captain from suburban Chicago, a member of the 5th Special Forces Group, recalled thinking to himself.
At a news conference Tuesday at Fort Campbell, Capt. Paul and two other U.S. special operations servicemen injured during an uprising by Taliban prisoners at the fortress outside the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif described the Northern Alliance soldiers as highly trained and appreciative of Americans. Five servicemen were injured in the incident; two others did not attend the news conference because of their injuries.
Citing security concerns, military officials declined to give full names for the wounded soldiers.
"It's hard to put into words the conditions that these soldiers are facing. The lack of equipment. The lack of cold weather clothing," Capt. Paul, who is using a cane becaue of his injuries, said of the Northern Alliance. "And the fact is they continue to fight."
The Northern Alliance soldiers would shake the hands of American soldiers and then put a hand over their heart, said Sgt. 1st Class Paul, 38, of Rockport, Texas.
"They couldn't accomplish their goals without our help and they knew it," said Sgt. 1st Class Paul. "It was really, really nice that they would support us. Their care and their concern was just as great as ours."
At first, however, the Northern Alliance soldiers were curious about the Americans, said Air Force Sgt. Michael, 27, of Oxford, Conn., based at Hulburt Field, Fla. The other four servicemen who were injured in the incident are based at Fort Campbell, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, 50 miles north of Nashville.
"They didn't know what we were about, but they just knew we were here to help them and we were working side by side," said Sgt. Michael.
Eventually, the Northern Alliance soldiers began greeting them with what translated to "thank you" in English.
"That became a greeting between us and the Northern Alliance," said Sgt. Michael.
The five had spent days in the fortress before Taliban prisoners were placed there, said Sgt. 1st Class Paul.
On Nov. 26, an 11-person team of special forces was sent back into the fortress to look for a CIA agent who was later found dead and a second CIA agent possibly inside the fortress, said Sgt. 1st Class Paul.
They never came in contact with the agents. With gunfire surrounding them, the soldiers radioed for help, said Sgt. Michael. Shortly after, they felt a massive explosion. Military officials said previously that the soldiers were wounded by an errant U.S. missile.
"Everything went brown and we started flying through the air," said Capt. Paul. The blast left Capt. Kevin unconscious, Capt. Paul said.
The men helped Capt. Kevin and were able to escape.
Capt. Kevin, from Oakland, N.J., remains in a hospital in Germany. He has a fractured pelvis and is expected to return home later this week.
The five suffered wounds ranging from broken bones to ruptured eardrums. Capt. Paul said all five are expected to recover, with the possibility of some permanent hearing loss.
Another of the wounded, 1st Sgt. David, of Evansville, Ind., was not at the news conference because of eardrum damage.
All have received Purple Heart medals. A CIA officer, Johnny "Mike" Spann, was killed during the battle, the first known U.S. combat casualty in Afghanistan.
Before the uprising, the men said they lived at times in caves, barely bathed and sometimes went hungry.
When they phoned their families shortly after they were wounded, each said it was the first time their wives knew for sure where they were.
Now, the men say they're ready to return as soon as possible to finish the war on terrorism.
"Knowing you had the support of the American people, knowing that it was a worthwhile mission, that was an excellent feeling," said Sgt. Michael.
They say they believe in the cause, partly because they witnessed the transformation of the area surrounding the city of Mazar-e-Sharif once the Taliban essentially left.
"You would hear a car go by that had music playing out of it, and an interpreter would go, 'I've never heard that before," said Sgt. 1st Class Paul. "The kids were flying kites, out in the streets playing, women were shedding the burkas. That was something that was pretty interesting to see.
"Everywhere we went, there was crowds of people. They would applaud. That was really, really a good feeling."