Monday, October 20, 2003
Bedrolls littered the floor, and two fighters at the rear of the room took aim through windows at other Americans entering the compound. Both swung toward Pryor, Kalashnikovs in their hands. Pryor fired, the rounds striking so dead-center that the men's beards fluttered.
As he reloaded, Pryor felt a foot brush up against his boot. At first, he thought it was another American. It wasn't. An al-Qaeda fighter struck Pryor hard from behind. The blow, possibly from a wooden board, dislocated Pryor's shoulder and broke his collarbone.
The fighter, bearded with his hair in a ponytail, jumped on Pryor's back and clawed at his face, tearing off his night-vision goggles.
"He started sticking his stinking little fingers into my eyeballs," Pryor remembers. [Ed's note: Al-Qaeda hand-to-hand combat training manuals emphasize attacking opponents' eyes as a direct route to the brain.]
His left shoulder felt like it was on fire. He was winded and weary from fighting at an altitude of 8,000 feet. Without night vision, everything was black.
The battle outside raged on, punctuated by AK-47 and rifle fire and the steady boom of a 40mm grenade launcher from a Special Forces Humvee. The air reeked of gunpowder and the copper scent of blood. Inside that first room, the two fighters — al-Qaeda and American — were fighting to the death.
Pryor had only a single thought: You're not going to kill me.
"That's how I attack things," he says later.
With one good arm, Pryor grabbed his enemy by the hair. But the man's weight, combined with the 80 pounds of Army gear that Pryor wore, caused the two to fall. They landed on Pryor's left elbow, and the impact jammed his shoulder back into its socket.
Now he could fight with both hands. In a few desperate seconds, Pryor broke the man's neck and finished him with a 9mm pistol.