When the air support arrived, everyone whod taken cover behind the rocks or terraces was able to leave the valley, he recalled. The helicopters saved us.
Several of the Afghans disputed the official accounts that Meyer had jammed two dozen Afghans into his vehicle during two runs, saying there werent that many where the Humvee had stopped.
One, Afghan Army Sgt. Ataullah, 29, said he clearly recalled what had taken place. He was gravely wounded in the ambush, with a cheek slashed open by a Taliban bullet and a scarf knotted around a thigh to stanch bleeding from another, when a Humvee roared up.
As gunfire sparked around them, a Marine jumped from the vehicle, picked me up and drove me to safety, he said. But Ataullah contradicted the official version, saying his rescuer was Marine Gunnery Sgt. Juan Rodriguez-Chavez, not Meyer.
He worked with me in HQ (headquarters) Company. He got off the Humvee and put me in it, Ataullah said. The driver got out. The other guy (Meyer) was in the turret, firing . . . a .50-caliber machine gun.
Five days later, Ataullah said, Rodriguez-Chavez visited him as he recuperated from his wounds in a U.S. clinic, and he asked me how I was doing and how I was feeling.
McClatchy asked Marine Corps Public Affairs to make Rodriguez-Chavez available for questions, but it said he declined to be interviewed.
All nine Afghans said Meyer couldnt have killed up to eight Taliban as they charged his vehicle on a third run.
Afghan troops advancing into the valley with the U.S. helicopters belated arrival recovered only two enemy bodies, they explained, and several said that both had died before Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez drove in. One was found next to the rock-strewn wash that provides the only drivable track between the walled terraces, and the other was recovered from a terrace nearer to the village.
Nematullah, a rocket-propelled grenade gunner whod exhausted his ammunition, related how the pair of insurgents he said he saw the bodies at his base later that day confronted him after theyd made their way down the southern valley slope as the ambush raged.
They saw me . . . and I pointed the empty rocket launcher at them. They were more cowardly than me. When I pointed the empty rocket launcher at them, they dropped to the ground, he recalled. I ran from there. I was wounded, but I could still run.
I didnt see any Taliban on the track, asserted Sgt. Mohammad Gul, 26, of Sayed Karam, in Paktia province, who helped retrieve casualties after spending most of the ambush guarding vehicles with Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez about a mile from the village.
Gul said he drove an unarmored light Ford truck ahead of Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez on the first run into the ambush zone, and he returned numerous times. The Taliban did not fight close to the track, he said.
Capt. Mohammad Sharif, an intelligence officer who wasnt involved in the battle, said the two dead insurgents were from Ganjgal and that hed delivered their corpses to local officials, who returned them to their families.
U.S. special forces and Afghan troops found no other bodies during a house-to-house search of the village after the battle, said Sharif, who added that the Afghan force remained in the hamlet until the following morning.