What happened in the first couple of days? When did you first start engaging
with the Taliban, and how did that come about?
Chief Warrant Officer
In the first stages after we connected, linked up and met with General Atta, we
started combat operations. We split into two elements. At that time, combat
operations were ongoing in the town of Aq Kupruk. General Atta's forces were
engaged daily, morning, night, in full-blown battle with mortars and lot of
Casualties started coming in. We started identifying targets and bringing some
conventional munitions to the table. That's when we brought in CAS [close air
support], and started, I guess, beating up on the Taliban. That kind of gave
them some momentum, because that took us, I think we fought in Aq Kupruk for
about three and a half four days. It was a Taliban stronghold. That started
giving them the momentum to start pushing through the Dar-e-Balkh and
Dar-e-Suff toward Mazar.
Do you remember the reaction of the Afghan soldiers the first time they saw
the use of close air support?
Chief Warrant Officer
Yes, they were pretty excited about it. The planes were pretty high and they
couldn't see the planes. But they definitely saw the impact of the rounds. The
first ones weren't as accurate, but we were fortunate that there was no
collateral damage. Then, as they started using other, more accurate munitions,
it definitely won a lot of rapport with the civilians, because [minimizing]
collateral damage was paramount for us -- we did not want it, it wasn't
I think it carried a lot of weight for them to see that we were compassionate,
not just [to] the cause, but to the people of Afghanistan. We weren't there
just to come in and beat the Taliban and leave. We were committed to this fight
and to support the Afghani people. We were there providing aid, humanitarian
aid and medical aid. We were working on soldiers, soldiers' families, the
animals, the livestock. It's full circle. We were there to provide aid to
everything and everybody, and the lethal aid we were doing was to prevent
Taliban from the tyranny that these people had lived under forever. ...
What was your assessment of the Northern Alliance? What kind of weapons did
they have? How did they travel? Did they have uniforms?
Chief Warrant Officer
They were a mature insurgency. They did not have uniforms, but they were
obedient, in the sense that they were farmers by day; and when it came time for
battle, they showed up for battle. Their logistics was in place. They would
battle all day or all night, and then you would see the children and the men
with the packed mules come up for re-supply. We weren't there to teach them how
to fight; we were there to assist them in the fight. We brought conventional
weapons to the fight. ...
I don't think that you could look at the Afghan soldiers and say that they
train or operate like maybe armies that the Western world trains and operates.
But as Stan alluded to, they have a lot of combat experience, and they'd been
fighting somebody for decades. Our assessment was that they definitely
demonstrated an initiative and a desire to launch combat operations right away.
They didn't desire to sit around and have a train-up from the Americans. They
prefer to have the Americans assist in their battle plan.
We provide advice and assistance to the commanders and to the soldiers, as well
as bringing in some combat power in terms of air, which is a whole 'nother
dimension to the battlefield. Neither the Northern Alliance forces, nor the
Taliban or Al Qaeda, expected or planned for [our air combat power]. They could
not defend against [it] ... But at the end of the day, we can't look at them
and say, "How do they compare to the 101st Air Assault Division here on Fort
Campbell?" That's not what we were really trying to assess.
What we're trying to assess is how ready, how prepared are they -- mentally,
physically and logistically -- to launch their offensive. And they were
prepared. All they needed was some more guns, some more bullets, some food,
some blankets, because it was getting cold, and some planning. I think that's
really what we brought to the field.
You're the medic on the team. Did you have any idea of what kind of medical
situation you might face? How were you prepared to deal with whatever might
Medically the intelligence was probably worse than anything else, because it
usually takes a back burner. So I really didn't know what the situation would
be like. Just from what I knew media-wise of Afghanistan, I anticipated
basically no medical care, supplies, or trained personnel being available.
Everything we brought was minimal, but I tried to bring things for every
contingency, which we taxed pretty quickly, once we got on the ground and
Can you talk about some of the experiences you encountered in those early
days and treating some of the Afghanis? What happened?
I think it wasn't more than a few days before we started having casualties, and
they were all Afghani casualties -- no Americans at that point. We initially
got one casualty and we treated him. It was an amputation of his leg, which in
and of itself was something that I never thought that I'd wind up doing. We're
trained to do it. But as you go through the training, you think, "Boy, when
would it ever get this bad that I would amputate a leg on some dirt somewhere
in who-knows-where?" Then to do it in the middle of the night with a headlamp
on and your weapons guy, I believe it was, assisting you, is pretty phenomenal.
I think once that casualty lived, and word got out that there're some guys on
the ground here that can do something when you're injured by a land mine or a
gunshot -- it was like the floodgates were open after that. We were open for
business. It seemed like every time I tried to sleep, somebody pulled up with
some degree of injury and they wanted it taken care of.
Where did that amputation take place? What was the setting?
The setting for the first procedure we did, the amputation, was basically what
you'd call a courtyard, which was also the cooking area and assembly for the
troops; a sleeping area for some. Even some animals ran around there from time
to time. So it was definitely not a hospital condition. It was the definition
of austere. We did it right there on the ground on what was basically
hard-packed mud; tried to lay a blanket down to keep it as clean as possible. I
think we did our best to preserve a sterile environment. ...
How were you dealing with the casualties at the same time you're moving so
Dealing with casualties as we're on the move much quicker than we expected to
be was actually a slight problem -- mainly for them, so to speak -- because
there would [times when] I was able to
complete procedures, but not really up to a point where you'd not want to
see someone again. You finish an amputation or a chest tube or a gunshot wound.
You really don't know who is the next medical person -- doctor, whoever --
that's going to see that patient. So you kind of have that at the back of your
mind. You hope that someone picked it up from where you left off. You just have to
know that you did what you could at that time. It was better than no treatment
at all. Maybe there was a qualified person; maybe what you did was just enough,
what that person needed to keep them going. ...
[Tell me about when your team met up with ODA 595 and Rashid Dostum.]
We were in the Dar-e-Balkh and we were fighting north, and at Dar-e-Suff ODA
595 was with Abdul Rasid Dostum. They were all fighting north also. Both
factions and ODAs were moving toward a town where the two rivers come together,
and then that whole river valley becomes the Dar-e-Suff Valley. It leads
straight north toward the southern side of Mazar-e-Sharif. Once we both fought
our way [there], ODA 595 and our ODA, 534, then sat down with both
factions and had a big meeting, almost a council of sorts, where we discussed
the offensive operations again Mazar. After that, 534 and 595 stayed together
not infrequently on communications to try and deconflict the operations and
actions of our factions to prevent any problems.
... We sort of pieced together our battle plan for Mazar. Mazar still had the
headquarters of one of the Taliban corps, as well as of one of the Taliban army
headquarters. We knew they were well fortified. They had a lot of artillery and
a lot of combat power up there. So at that point, we still saw Mazar as our
goal, but also as our most formidable battle -- at least in our perception at
When the factional leaders are together and talking, and you and Mark [the
captain of ODA 595] are there, what's your role as American advisers? Who's
calling the shots?
... It's negotiations, and the thing is, it's really important at the end of
the day to remember to focus on what we share in common. Their Alliance and our
military have coalition objectives; we're working together toward the same
goals, and we focus on those. We have only a few men; they have the armies. So
they need to employ their armies in accordance with their capabilities, and
they best know what those capabilities are -- not us.
We're there to provide advice and to assess and see how we can best orchestrate
things to lend some experience that we have. But [we] remember that,
unfortunately, these people have lived as career belligerents. They've been in
war so long, they feel very confident in their operational planning. We really
just wanted to make sure we left that meeting having an understanding what
their plan was, and to bring light to a few points that we thought were
One particular example is there's a gap, south of Mazar; a very defendable
piece of key terrain that we had assessed prior to infiltration that we knew
would be a Taliban last stand. We brought this to the attention and asked the
factions' leaders what their plan was for securing it. Then we went to our military [and] asked for satellite imagery and targeting of
any Taliban assets that were beginning to set up defenses there. So we play a
role in there. But the big thing is we want to leave there understanding the
plan, so we can best figure out how we can assist that plan, and also see how
it fits in with our coalition objectives.
[As you] move towards Mazar, how was the situation changing on the ground?
How strong was the resistance of the Taliban? How did the campaign progress?
Chief Warrant Officer
After [we met up with ODA 595] it was rather fast. We were pushing to
get to the gap. Like Dean said, we were constantly trying to get closer to the
gap because we realize that was key terrain for the attack on Mazar, and we
needed to make sure the Taliban didn't hold that piece of terrain. ...
Sheberghan fell pretty quick, and then we moved up to the gap. Then they
mustered troops there, and fought through the night in Mazar.
It was quite a sight. We had mounted troops. We had troops on horseback going
through, at the tail end of the effort, coming up like 25 horses going through
the gap, and had BMPs and, and mechanized assets in front of them. So everybody
was getting into the fight. But we fought through the night and I guess into
the morning, in town.
The key thing there to remember, like we talked about earlier, is the
collateral damage. Mazar is the home of the Blue Mosque, and we, as a
detachment, had already recognized that we were not going to drop ordnance on
the Blue Mosque or anywhere to risk collateral damage of the Blue Mosque. That
was key. A lot of fighting there wasn't the close air support; there was more
of combat and dismounted effort there. ...
Let's talk about the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif. How was the decision made on
which faction was going to go in first? What were the issues there?
It was a very fluid operation. I think that the most important thing that
everybody wanted to maintain was the initiative tempo, the momentum, if you
will. We stopped in Shol Ghar, and Atta threw a pretty big feast for us to
thank us for what we had done. Meanwhile, he and General Dostum went forward to
the gap to recon the positions there. We expected him to come back and to
confirm or deny what parts of the original plan for the seizure of were still
intact. ... Instead, we picked up and we again moved forward toward the gap.
The combat in the gap had progressed to a point where he felt it was time to
begin to mass. We were supposed to move up to a village that was south of the
gap -- that's north of Shol Ghar -- and begin to wage our offensive in the gap.
About the same time, the Taliban really began to withdraw from there, so we
moved to a position south of the gap for our assault position. Atta began to
mass his forces there on vehicles, horses, whatever he could get his hands on,
either stolen or taken from the Taliban, Al Qaeda or borrowed from the local
population as we had moved all the way up the Dar-e-Suff.
Atta and Dostum had a meeting just after sunset the night before we moved into
the city. They talked about their final plans. In hindsight now, having spoken
with Captain Mark, Dostum assessed and told Captain Mark
that he believed that they had expended the greatest amount of distance that
they could move at that time. They had to bring up their combat trains to
continue their offensive while Atta had his whole force ready to go. At the
time, we didn't really understand how the decision was made, but now we know
that Dostum felt that he had gone as far as he could go for that time and he
needed Atta to continue to move forward. What we saw on the ground at that
point was that Atta had decided to continue to press on.
These wars are fought differently. We can't look at how we fight wars and how
they fight wars. Atta has that cell phone and ... radios talking to his
subordinate commanders. But he's also on the Inmarsat cell phone, talking to
other subordinate commanders of the Taliban, trying to negotiate their
surrender or their defection. So he's surrounded by several telephones here,
sitting on the dirt in a covered and concealed location, talking to both his
subordinate commanders who are now pushing their forces through the gap and
their offensive against Mazar. He's also trying to negotiate the surrender and
defection of other leaders, whose forces he may encounter as enemy along the
Eventually, just prior to sunset, Atta's forces had moved well into the city
and had established [a] holding position inside the city. There were still
large pockets of Taliban and Al Qaeda resistance in Mazar. Atta moved his
command and control element and our ODA up through the gap and into the city.
We went right into the center of the city that day. We were greeted very well
by the citizens of Mazar. They were very excited to see us; they associate the
Americans with their liberation. At this point, some English-speaking
interpreters told us that they were praying to Allah on our behalf, asking for
our blessings and being very grateful.
It was the first time we really saw a sort of split in the Taliban. Before, the
Taliban from Aq Kupruk up the Dar-e-Balkh and through the Dar-e-Suff were
pretty much fleeing. It was disorganized. I think that's because we killed a
lot of their leadership. But at the same time, it was definitely a unified
effort to flee north towards Mazar. But now that Mazar had basically fallen,
we had a split. We had 500-600 Taliban, Al Qaeda who decided to stake
themselves off and die for the jihad, while the rest continued to flee to the
east towards Kunduz. It was the first time when we saw a sort of split
in the ranks of the Taliban, where their frustrations and their defeat really
began to affect their operational decisions. In time, the Americans, with the
factions, would eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance.
As a personal experience, what was it like entering Mazar?
Entering Mazar-e-Sharif was like a scene out of a World War II movie or
something. We moved into the town by vehicles. The streets, the roadsides, even
outside of the city going into the city were just lined with people, cheering
and clapping their hands and just celebrations everywhere. It was just unlike
anything we'd ever seen, other than maybe on a movie screen. ...
Sgt 1st Class
Can you remember any of it?
A lot of what they do was fire weapons into the air. That's one of their
biggest party favors. So there was a lot of that going on. The first few
nights, it was like July 4 is here, a big fireworks show, [firing] rounds up in
the air. Anyone who spoke even a little bit of English was not afraid to march
right up to you and tell you exactly why they were happy you were here, and
thank you very much. They'd list the top ten reasons for why they hated the
Taliban and were glad they were gone. So we got a good feeling that, "Hey,
we're definitely doing the right thing. These people want us here, they
What was the significance of Kunduz?
Chief Warrant Officer
Kunduz was the final holdout of the Taliban in the north. We had already seized
Mazar, and like Dean said, some of the 500 or 600 had come up and negotiated
surrender. We continued to move east to [where] we suspected a couple of
thousand to surrender. [It was a] pretty long movement. I think it took us
eight or nine hours, a pretty treacherous drive. ...
We move east to Kunduz and there we have quite the convoy, with both factions'
forces moving there. ... We go to a key terrain position, and just like what
happened in its own smaller scale in Mazar, they start the negotiations. They
start massing. A couple of hundred, a couple of thousand. They like to hold out
until the end of the day, to be the last to surrender. They'd get into other
issues [about] how each commander is treated and so on and so forth. It was
not a very comforting situation for us, because of how we deal with POWs. But
we weren't there to teach them. There were certain things we could advise them
on, but it was an interesting situation.
What was interesting about it?
Chief Warrant Officer
Just the whole handling [of prisoners] and what was acceptable for them. Allowing enemy
commanders' bodyguards to keep their guns, even though they were prisoners.
Things like that just aren't acceptable for us. ...
Once Kunduz fell, we had a definite shift from, we fight as guerrillas, we
fight as insurgents - we, the Americans, alongside of our faction -- to where
we chase them, the enemy, as guerrillas. It changes from an insurgent war to a
counterinsurgent war. In the north, I think that was marked mostly by
Once Kunduz had fallen, it's pretty much a permissive environment for the
Northern Alliance. They can move freely within the battle space, now that the
Taliban and Al Qaeda are forced to hide and operate and settle their structures
and live in the hills and work from remote locations. Then for us, we begin to
try and manage intelligence, to try and locate key personnel who are still in
hiding, and then work with our faction to go find them -- capture them or kill
So your roles change?
Absolutely. Our roles changed. ...
[Can you tell me any stories about working and fighting with the
Chief Warrant Officer
[We're driving in an old Russian jeep.] We got into a river. We're driving
through a river. The water's up to the side and you're thinking, "Oh, man, it's
cold, I'm going to have to get it before it dies. But I'll have to get out and
walk in this water." And our driver just "crank crank crank crank" [and it]
starts. [He] gets out, [and it] dies again. At least we're out of the river.
But consistently, throughout the trip, he'd do something, wiggle something, get
out and do this, and bam, we're on our way. They just could make anything work.
It's just amazing.
The stink -- the Taliban would take gas, because they don't have water to
spare. They'd pour gas all over the vehicles and they'd take dirt and they'd
throw it on the vehicle so it would stick to the gas. So now all the vehicles
just stink like gasoline and there's gas all over the floor. You're afraid that
the thing is going to light in the fire.
But the Afghani people are so resourceful. We saw one guy with a bicycle he was
using as a bellows to fan the flames of the welding shop. They're so
resourceful. They don't throw anything away, and they'll make those jeeps work;
they'll make anything work. They're resourceful people, great people to fight
alongside, because you know they're not going to quit. ...
We taught the cook [that Atta assigned to us] to make hamburgers. I actually
have a picture of the guy. He's got a hamburger up in the air. [With a homemade
spatula], he's learning how to flip burgers. I think that was like the first
cheeseburgers they had. We just bought ground beef and taught them, and they
were just amazed. It was like we could have opened up an Arby's right then and
there. They were lined up: "Get one for me." It was like, "OK, how about some
for the Americans?"
We also had the welding dude, the one that constructs things for us and fixes
our vehicles, the vehicle mechanic. He was just a multipurpose handyman. We had
him make their first barbecue grill, and on Christmas, we had them to kill a
cow for us and we had barbecue, Didn't have no barbecue sauce, but we had
On infil, we hit the ground. We'd been flying about six to six and a half
hours. Because of security, everything is low to the ground, very fast, and
it's freezing. All the windows are open, the doors are open. We brought
blankets to give to the faction. As soon as we hit the ground, we're all
wrapped up in the blankets and we hit the ground and there's snow everywhere.
We've brought food and medical supplies, and [we're trying to] launch all that
stuff off the back of the bird and sit on the ground, because there's snow and
it's just sliding down the mountain.
Then they started launching mortar rounds back and forth. This is our first
exposure; we thought we were in [enemy] contact. Well, the mortar rounds were
their way of communicating. So they're shooting mortar rounds from here and
from somewhere else, there's more rounds going up, and we think we're in
contact. They're trying to explain to us in little hand and arm signals we had
that it's just their way of communicating.
Meanwhile we're freezing, and they're sticking their feet in the fire. They had
these little plastic shoes on. We had our boots. They don't have any socks, and
we just wouldn't let ourselves be cold after that, because they had nothing but
a blanket that we gave them -- no socks, plastic shoes, sticking their feet in
the flames of the fire to warm them up. That'll keep you from getting cold.
Yes, those were some of the hardest people we've seen. They literally had
plastic shower shoes and a cloth cotton garment that you've probably seen that
they wear, and they didn't even shiver. It was almost like the nerves that
receive cold were gone for those guys. They made you feel like a baby if you
even thought of being cold. ...
Every Friday, they had [a game] which is now more famous than it was, I guess.
It's the horse event where they grab the carcass of-- Ours was a dead calf, but
I guess in the past, it's been a dead goat. It's a pretty brutal game. You get
out there on a horse. We didn't understand the rules. We thought it was a team
sport initially, so we were out there riding around kind of blind, wondering
what team they'd put us on until we realized there's no teams. You're just out
there trying to win.
So you're trying to grab this calf, which is probably 80 pounds, and you have
to lean over on a horse. Of course, they've been on horses all their lives, so
they're a lot better at that and that type of stuff than we are. So we get the
calf, and we realize you have to ride around a certain pole to get a point, and
then drop it in a circle to get another point. It was probably the most fun a
few of us would have all week. We'd go out there and you'd get accidentally
whipped by the horsewhips, you'd get bit by horses, you'd fall off, get bruised
up, but more and more of us kept going back every week. ...
They definitely don't have the same ... sort of cultural values or norms that
we have for animals. ... They have a tendency to beat their animals. We had, I
think, [on] our first infiltration on horseback, two broken legs and four
horses collapse, and the horse would collapse to the ground under the weight.
They're not used to carrying heavy Americans. [The Afghanis] would beat that
poor animal until they-- I guess they expected it to get up, but of course it's
not going to get up, because it's collapsed from exhaustion. ...
Anything that they [got from the supplies that were brought], parachute silk,
they would take and make blankets out of it, they'd make walls out of it on
houses. The parachute cord, the 550-pound tensile strength cord, they would use
that for straps. We'd be going down and we'd see guys with the [potato]
Yes, two guys with burlap sacks like overcoats...
Dean, Capt.: ... The overcoats, and walking around with the Idaho potatoes or whatever it
said on there...
I think when a pallet came in with supplies, if there was food or medical
supplies or blankets for them on there, you were still the loser if that's what
you got. You were the winner if you got the parachute, the plywood and the
cardboard and string. ...
What thing are you going to tell your grandkids about your experience
I agree the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif was probably the most notable experience,
just because I compared it with the fall of Aq Kupruk and the differences in
how we were received by the population. In Aq Kupruk we were looked at almost
with indecision and with distrust, mistrust; whereas, in Mazar-e-Sharif, we
were welcomed with open arms. In Aq Kupruk we were continually watching our
backs and keeping our eyes moving around, because we didn't feel welcome at
all. In Mazar-e-Sharif, we had people coming up and volunteering intelligence
information about the location of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda personnel, as
well as information about suicide bombers in our force protection. So it was
completely different contrast in just a short amount of time between a huge
population center and a smaller population center. They were completely
Chief Warrant Officer
I guess one of my most memorable moments was when Atta was on the scope, and
seeing the [Taliban] command and control element being bombed. It was just a
big turn in how he viewed us, and what we brought to the table there to the
war. Suddenly, I think he understood that we wouldn't accept collateral damage.
We were there to kill the enemy and we were a force there. We had been through
battle together. So, suddenly, we carried a different perspective than any
other Americans. We were his friends, and we were to stay as long as we wanted
to stay. He automatically knew that, if he designated, 'That's a bad guy,' we
would take care of it by whatever means, whether it is taking his forces out
and killing it, or using our air assets or whatever was available. It just gave
us a different status.
I think my most memorable time there actually would be the night we left. I say
that because it was almost like the culmination of everything we'd done. We
were glad to leave. By all means, we were glad to leave. But still, it was like
a goodbye between people that we'd met along the way, even guys that we'd known
since the first night there on the ground. Just the fact that they wanted to
hug us and shake our hand and exchange gifts -- it showed that we had done
something right. We'd gone through battle with these guys. There were guys
there from the beginning that we'd maybe helped keep alive. We'd done our job,
and built rapport and fought with these guys well enough that they considered
us their friends and vice versa for us, which was a really good feeling, unique
to the [unconventional warfare] operations that we did. ...
home + on the ground + assessing the campaign + with us or against us? + fighting on two fronts: a chronology
epilogue + discussion + interviews + links & readings + introduction + video + reporter's notebook
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