5 Minn. Guard members wounded in attack in

Published 9:20 am Thursday, January 23, 2014

By Paul Walsh

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Five members of a National Guard company based in Litchfield, Minn., were wounded in a suicide attack in Afghanistan carried out by suspected Taliban combatants on a base shared by American and Afghan forces, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.

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The assault occurred Monday about 10:30 a.m. on a base in Kandahar province, said Lt. Col. Kevin Olson of the Minnesota National Guard.

Officials were not disclosing any identifying information about the guard members from the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company or their conditions.

But the mother of one of the wounded Minnesota soldiers identified her son as Sgt. Robbie Sheets. Kim Schwich, of Green Isle, Minn., said her son said in a short telephone call that he had been hit by shrapnel in the leg and back during an ambush and that he was being treated in Afghanistan.

“He said, ‘We got ambushed.’ Robbie kept saying we’re all alive, we’re all alive,” she said. “You know, I’m not there to see if he’s OK. That mother instinct is very strong. I told him, ‘I’m glad to hear your voice, but really, ‘Are you OK?’ “

Killed was one American soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Edward Balli, 42, of Monterey, Calif., Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

One Minnesota guard member was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for treatment and “is recovering,” Olson said. The others are recovering in Afghanistan, he added.

Robbie Sheets told his mother he would be remaining in Afghanistan with his “comrades.”

Members of the 849th come largely from many Minnesota communities and a few cities in Wisconsin. Their mission in Afghanistan is to clear routes to ensure the mobility of coalition forces. They also carry out limited infantry operations. This is the first major incident to hit the unit, Kim Schwich said.

There were 95 members of the 849th in this one-year deployment, which began in July with training before arrival in Afghanistan.

The attack began when a small truck packed with explosives drove to the main gate of Forward Operating Base Pasab, according Lt. Col. Will Griffin, of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.

The driver set off a powerful blast, killing himself and the American soldier, Jamal Agha, governor of the Zhari district, told the New York Times.

A minivan then immediately sped to the gate, and eight gunmen in military fatigues and wearing suicide vests jumped out and tried to storm the base, officials told the Times.

“There was moderate damage to the outer perimeter of the base,” Griffin said, “however, the base was quickly secured and all enemy forces were killed during their attack.”

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the assault.