on the ground
with us?

photo of u.s. army captain jason amerine
interview: u.s. army captain jason amerine

On Sept. 11, where were you or your team? How did you hear about the attacks?

On Sept. 11, my detachment was located in Kazakhstan. We were training with Kazak paratroopers in an exercise called "regional cooperation." During that exercise, we were exchanging ideas, or exchanging military skills....

We were getting ready to go in eat dinner.. Dan Petithory was my senior communications sergeant. ... He called me on a cell phone and told me what was going on. That's when we received the word that America had been attacked.

It's a night that none of us will forget. We quickly left the restaurant. We went back on base. I sat down with JD -- Jefferson Davis, the team sergeant. We talked over what we expected to happen next. What we anticipated was that this meant a war had just started. We didn't exactly know where, although, even at that point, all of us had a pretty good idea of where it would be centered, with bin Laden [and] everything [in] Afghanistan. ...

We re-deployed to Fort Campbell about a week later, because of all the airlines being shut down in the United States. ...We started preparing our equipment. We received guidance through our higher headquarters about the sorts of missions to prepare for. The big focus for us was to prepare for unconventional warfare, to execute a guerrilla war. ... We were preparing to execute a guerrilla war that could take a year or more. ...

So for the next several weeks, we trained. We got out there. We shot our weapons, we did live fires -- all the training that we'd let slip, because with the operations we were doing, we made sure that we were building up on the biggest things that we needed to focus on. We're talking aircraft, requesting air fire. We believed that close air support was going to be our bread and butter. ...

Amerine led Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 574, an A-team of eleven soldiers from the U.S. Army's 5th Special Forces Group which fought with and protected Afghan leader Hamid Karzai in battles against the Taliban during November and December, 2001. He was wounded by a misdirected U.S. bomb in the worst "friendly fire" incident of the war. This interview was conducted on July 9 and 12, 2002.

The mission that we were sort of focusing on was to be infiltrated behind enemy lines; link up with relatively large organized Northern Alliance forces, and meet up with their headquarters -- probably at a slightly higher echelon -- where we would work with them on developing a plan -- this is the objective that they want to take. Then we would provide the close air support. ...

When did you then deploy to the region?

We deployed to the region in October. We deployed to a base outside of Afghanistan, where we continued to plan. We continued to receive more guidance, more focus on specific areas where we might be fighting. ...

When you first heard the name Hamid Karzai, did it mean anything to you?

When we first were told that we were linking up with Hamid Karzai, that name had no meaning to us. We were pretty quickly given information about who he was. So we were able to figure out that this was a pretty important figure. From our estimation, with Abdul Haq dead, we had nobody else of any caliber that we really could link up with that could help us with the Pashtun tribes. [Ed. Note: Abdul Haq was an Afghan opposition leader who was assassinated on October 26, 2001].

The Pashtun are the ethnic majority in Afghanistan. So being able to gain an ally in the Pashtun tribal belt was just critical to the whole war. So we knew pretty fast that Hamid Karzai was going to be a critical player to this campaign.

Who was Karzai? What were his military capabilities at that point?

Hamid Karzai himself didn't want to be known as a warrior. He wanted to be known as somebody who was leading the people in an uprising against an unpopular government. Not only was it an unpopular government; but it was an illegitimate government supported by non-Afghanis, taking horrible actions against the people. So his focus was more of, "Let's assist the people in rising up," as opposed to, "Let's form an army and move through Oruzgan province, seizing ground." So the challenge that we had was to work with him to find a way to-- We want people to rise up, but we also need to have a good-sized force that could defend against the Taliban, because the people simply rising up ran the risk of being crushed by a well-organized force. ...

During this planning period, who was doing the planning? As the team captain, how much authority did you have over what it was going to be?

Our mission was to infiltrate the Oruzgan province, link up with Hamid Karzai and his Pashtun fighters, and advise and assist his forces in order to destabilize and eliminate the Taliban regime there. More importantly, we were there to ensure that Al Qaeda couldn't operate in Afghanistan anymore. We were going to make sure that Afghanistan was no longer a safe haven for terrorism.

If we couldn't stop them before they got into the town, the fight was lost, and we were going to have to grab Hamid get out of there.

This mission was exactly what we are designed to do as an ODA [Operational Detachment Alpha, or A-Team]. The 12 members of the detachment are put together in that composition exactly so they can plan and develop a campaign of this nature. We were in constant communications through our chain of command. We had excellent support where we're located. The Air Force has given us incredibly good intelligence support. We had all sort of assets available to us.

The first critical thing that I had to accomplish was establishing and building a rapport with Hamid Karzai. ... We couldn't rush into business. I had to sit down, tell him a little bit about me, talk to him, ask him a little bit about himself. We had to get to know each other. We had a very short period of time to sort of get to know each other, build trust, then go to war. ... We had to find a way to find that in-between point between his vision and our vision, and come up with a workable plan that we felt would succeed in the Pashtun tribal belt.

What it ended up coming down is, me and my soldiers pulling out maps, putting them up on the wall, and just working through, "OK, this is probably a good way to get in and take down the Oruzgan province." ... Our target at that point was near Tarin Kowt. We anticipated at some point laying siege to Tarin Kowt, where, at one time, there was an airfield. ...

Hamid Karzai described Tarin Kowt as the heart of the Taliban movement. He said that all of the major leaders of the Taliban movement had families in and around Tarin Kowt. Mullah Omar was from Deh Rawod, which was just to the west of Tarin Kowt. So the seizure of Tarin Kowt would represent such a psychological victory for us. He believed that, by taking Tarin Kowt, all of the Pashtun villagers would essentially surrender at that point, or turn completely to our cause.

One important thing here that has to be understood is that, just because a village was aligned with the Taliban, doesn't actually mean that they were pro-Taliban. A lot of these villages simply align themselves with the Taliban out of fear, that if they didn't, the Taliban would come and wipe them out and hurt their families. So his vision was that, by taking Tarin Kowt, we would show that our movement, the movement under Hamid Karzai, had enough teeth to it; that the people could rise up and align with us, and that we would have the muscle to protect them from the Taliban.

Initially, the plan that we came up with was to close off all the major mountain passes leading into Tarin Kowt, then lay siege to the town with a large force. Hamid anticipated that the village itself would essentially surrender to us. But at the same time, we had to make sure that we could protect that whole valley that Tarin Kowt was located in from any counterattack from the Taliban, particularly from Kandahar. There were a number of Taliban garrisons all over the province. But our biggest fear was the large forces in Kandahar, because they tended to be better organized, better led, and seemed also to have the leadership that it would take to come up and really do a lot of damage to us.

So you think that it was a good idea to move into Tarin Kowt right away?

Hamid Karzai told me that he had a force of soldiers already located in Tarin Kowt that wanted to rise up and rebel against the administrators there. In talking about it, the big thing that I stressed to him was, "We only have 30 guys right now. We need to actually build a force, so we could go in there do something about it." It wouldn't do us any good if somebody rose up, we took Tarin Kowt for a little while, then the Taliban came and then crushed the movement. It would just be a waste of lives.

So we brought in arms and ammunition. We started to build a force. We ended up actually having literally hundreds of people coming in for weapons. But in terms of a mobile force, we still only had between 30-60 guys that were really ready to get on the road and move with us anywhere. All the other people were folks coming from these villages that joined our cause, but would be going back to defend their villages against the Taliban.

On November 16, we received word that the people in Tarin Kowt had risen up against their Taliban administrators ... and chased the rest of the Taliban out. Hamid Karzai hadn't directed this to happen. It came as an enormous surprise to all of us when it did. But Hamid wanted to get there immediately to take Tarin Kowt. He wanted to go in there with what troops we had available, and we would do what we could to defend the town.

It was really a tough decision to make. On the one hand, we were such a weak force, we didn't really have any organic capability to protect the town. But at the same time, at least we had access to a large armada of aircraft if we needed them. But most importantly, Tarin Kowt was just not something that we could leave alone at that point. We had to go in there and try to do what we could.

So when we went in, my men had the understanding that this was possibly going to be a pretty ugly fight. But [they understood that] we had to do what we could to protect the town at that point. ... We anticipated the Taliban were going to be coming to exact some revenge upon the people there.

We ended up forming up a convoy of whatever vehicles were available. The vehicles ranged from pick-up trucks to flatbed trucks, a couple of touring vans, and a bunch of former UN vehicles. ... One of my soldiers even rode on the roof of one of these trucks with a lot of our equipment, to try to protect the equipment. We began a movement that took all day into the night as we headed towards Tarin Kowt. ... When we arrived, there was nobody in the street really to meet us. Everything was very subdued.

... Karzai was immediately requested to appear at the governor's mansion with the newly established government, which included a new governor. All the senior Pashtun tribal leaders from the area had joined there. So Hamid Karzai went there to that meeting, while my men started to get a sense for the area and started to figure out where we needed to set up antennas and things like that. We just started to establish a headquarters. ...

I was requested to go to the governor's mansion, meet Hamid Karzai up there along with all the officials. So I went up there. Hamid had already been there for, I think, about an hour or two. When I got up there, I sat down. We didn't speak mutual languages, but I met a number of the leaders.

I was just told briefly by Hamid who these people were, that they're glad that we're there and so on. Also that there was a convoy coming north from Kandahar with a number of Taliban. They weren't sure -- maybe a hundred or so vehicles, somewhere between 300-500 men would probably be getting up that way in the next day or two. It was all fairly matter of fact at that point. It took me a second to digest it. At that point, I said, "Well, it was nice meeting all of you. I think we need to organize a force now and do what we can to defend this town."

What was going through your mind?

I won't say it was panic. But my own mental analysis of the situation on our side was that we had 11 special forces soldiers, a bunch of highly motivated, if not untrained guerrillas numbering somewhere between 30 and 60. [It was] difficult to tell at that point -- opposed by maybe a hundred vehicles, maybe as many as 500 men that were coming up there who were probably very angry and really wanted to retake the town.

So it really got me thinking about, first, what were we going to do to defend the town? Also, what were we going to have to do to get out of that town if we couldn't defend it and make sure that Hamid Karzai stayed alive? So all these things were racing through my mind.

As I was trying to excuse myself from the meeting, they were insisting that I sit stay a little while, have some tea, eat some dinner. It was the first day of Ramadan, so they were going to break fast. I really couldn't get out of there right away. I delayed probably an extra ten minutes or so, to eat a little bit of food, to ask a little bit more information about what they knew of what was coming our way.

Then finally I was able to excuse myself, get back to my team and explain to my men what was coming up. Everybody on the team responded to it remarkably well; nobody panicked. We just kind of laid out, "Well, they're coming from Kandahar. We know it's a large convoy."

The way a special forces team is set up, you're built to respond to things like this. I had my weapons sergeants analyzing the maps. I had my Air Force combat controller starting to figure out a plan get a warning order kind of sent up to the Air Force and to the Navy that we'd probably need a lot of aircraft -- fast. My communications sergeants were calling back right away to our higher headquarters, letting them know what was coming our way. JD, the team sergeant, was there orchestrating everything, making sure that everybody was kind of staying on task. We worked through the evening that way, waiting for guerrillas to show up. Our plan was to grab as large a force as we could and move out to the edge of town.

Had you asked Hamid Karzai and the other leaders there to send their guys?

Right prior to leaving the governor's mansion, I told Hamid I needed to get me every able-bodied soldier you can get to the headquarters. Once I get a big enough force, I'm just going to move out. I'm going to try to set up a good defense outside of town. The plan that my men came up with, we were going to establish essentially an overwatch position. We're going to get up on a high piece of terrain, hopefully a mountain or a large hill, and we're going to direct air strikes from as far away as possible on this convoy coming our way. ...

I knew it was going to be a pretty big fight if their information was in fact correct. I would learn from this later episode that Karzai had an incredibly good intelligence network through the Pashtun tribal belt. If anything was going on, all the Pashtun tribesmen knew about it and got word to Karzai right away.

The biggest tool in his intelligence network was the [satellite] telephone. He had them spread all over the province with key trusted leaders. So he was able to get word right away of anything going on. ... He worked the phones constantly. I think one of the biggest concerns that we had was just keeping the batteries powered up for him to use that telephone.

It was something. He'd get phone calls like that all the time. Whenever the phone rang, all of us were kind of wondering who's calling next. Maybe it the BBC or maybe it was another senior Taliban leader trying to surrender. The satellite telephone was his greatest weapon. Arguably, it was our greatest weapon in the war, especially in the Pashtun tribal belt. ...

At the same time he's doing that, you're also asking him for what-- like extra trucks, horses?

One of Hamid Karzai's greatest challenges was he didn't have a second in command. Part of that was by design. He was trying to gather a coalition of Pashtun tribes. For him to designate any one of them as his second in command would have caused a great deal of rivalry through all the relations. If he'd picked this tribal leader, "You're my second in command," then his cousins and brothers and so on would have all suddenly become a favored group of tribes, which would have made these other tribes angry. So he really couldn't afford to designate a second in command.

As a result, it was often amusing to have to watch the level of detail that he'd be having a focus on in his daily life. He might be speaking to UN representatives in one conversation on the phone. Then he'd hang up and deal with a man from Tarin Kowt that showed up saying that he'd lost a mule and he needed a new one. Hamid would direct, "OK, get this man a mule." I'd often feel bad because we were always short on trucks. That was a big thing that we always had a challenge with: getting trucks, or if a truck broke down, getting a new truck.

Again, Hamid Karzai was the conduit for all of that. So right after he'd get off the phone talking about the future possibilities of an interim government, I'd be saying, "Hey, I need a pick-up truck." That just isn't the level of detail that you'd normally have to get into with somebody who's about to be the leader of a country.

Was it apparent to you that that might be his future role?

As soon as we heard that we were going to be working with him, we had some pretty good indicators of how important he was going to be. In the course of a lot of these sat phone conversations, sitting in, him briefing me on different things going on, both at the lower level and at the geo-political level, it was clear that he was going to be a part of the interim government. His whole dream was the loya jirga. That was the whole point of it all. Put down the Taliban, have a loya jirga, and get a popular government, by the people, for the people; democracy -- really.

There is always the question of who was actually going to be elected in the loya jirga. I didn't have any deeper insight into that. But I was sure he'd end up playing a critical role in the government at some point. It was also apparent through his conversations with the Northern Alliance. He'd be speaking on the phone to Dostum and other leaders, [and it was clear] that he had a pretty good amount of rapport with them, as well with the Pashtuns. So at that point I didn't know of anybody else that had such a decent relationship both with the Northern Alliance and with Pashtuns. That sort of a leader was going to be critical to actually re-uniting Afghanistan when the war was over. ...

If not your formal mission, your informal mission [was] pretty clear to you -- that your job was to keep Hamid alive?

... It was real clear that he was very influential. So it was sort of an unstated part of us we had to keep him alive. But the bigger focus for me than Hamid was that we need to fight. We need to fight to take this area [from Taliban control] ...

Because you knew that he was an important guy for Afghanistan, for the U.S., did that make you more cautious? Did it change you calculation?

We [could not] operate without Hamid Karzai being in the middle of things. As far as giving commands, he couldn't be very far removed. He had to be out constantly, giving guidance to people. We'd be out on the street, trying to organize a convoy to go carry out an operation, when things would get all fouled up through a language barrier problem. I'd have to grab him, and he'd have to come out on the street himself and start giving directions.

That was a very dangerous place for him. We tried to at least keep him within compounds. But we couldn't operate without him being out there, really leading guys from the front himself. It was really an ugly situation to be in, because on the one hand, he was so vitally important. But on the other hand, he couldn't carry out his cause without actually being up front, doing his job of leading his people. So I sort of had to [allay] my fears of his assassination a lot of times, and realize that we're going to have to assume some risk here in order to carry out our mission. We did what we could to safeguard him.

He had a number of bodyguards that were Pashtun fighters. We did what we could to make sure that they were staying on task. I'd frequently walk in some mornings, and a lot of the bodyguards would be asleep. We'd have to wake them up. I'd have to talk to Karzai: "Look, we need to keep you alive here. We can't make it easy for them to get you." We received very credible reports a number of times that there were assassins sent by Taliban that were coming up to try to get to us.

... It was something to see [Hamid] in action. When things were slow now and then, just sitting there in these meetings, just watching what was going on, he'd lean over and explain to me with kind of a small smile on his face, "Blah, blah, this man is talking about-- This is the problem." Then he'd make his own kind of social commentary on whatever the issue was. I really could have sat there for just days on end watching it all. But obviously, I had some other stuff I had to do to.

It must have been fascinating, just on a social--

It was. Every day something just funny would come up. One day, there's this guy sitting on my right that's got this kind of a goofy grin, looking over at me, laughing. I'm sitting there. I look over at the guy. I didn't really know what the significance was. But I might ask Hamid, I'm like, "Who is this guy?" He's like, "Oh, he's a Taliban commander that's come to surrender." I'm like, "Oh." [laughing]. So he's looking at the American, OK, and [stops.] He figured out that Hamid had explained it to me, so I looked at him. We both just kind of laughed, and shook hands. "Taliban" is a relative term.

We had misperception that all these guys were baby killers committing genocide. But some of these guys were just aligned with the Taliban. This guy was just from the middle of nowhere. So it wasn't all us versus them, this evil undertone, "to the death" kind of feeling to it. I mean, there was some of that. But in this case, really both of us just kind of laughed as we sat there. I was probably in that meeting for an hour or two. We'd just both be constantly looking over at each other, kind of grinning. It was just funny.

Back to what happened at Tarin Kowt. After you heard that the Taliban is coming up, you ask the tribal leaders to supply some of their men. What happens next?

About 1:30 or 2 in the morning, we had a good amount of aircraft flying up down the major routes from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt. My Air Force combat controller was directing the aircraft. We were getting reconnaissance reports. That's when we first spotted a convoy. Up until that point, we hadn't received any credible evidence ourselves that anything was coming. But a convoy of about eight or ten vehicles were spotted by F-18 Navy fighters.

So my combat controller looked at me and said, "OK, well, this is what we see." At that point, we hadn't fired a shot in the war, really; that was sort of the commencement of actual fighting for us. The whole team was in a small room. There really was kind a moment of silence. A lot of the men had been to war. It wasn't that the experience was that new to a lot of the people on the team. But at the same time, it was the first shot of the war for us. ... I'd hope to say something a little bit more eloquently, but I just said, "Well, smoke 'em." At that point, we started bombing those vehicles.

... The vehicles were very far away, so we could hear a little bit, but they were too far still [to see them]. But it was clear that we had a lot of bad guys coming our way. I'd worked out with Hamid before all of this about enemy convoys coming -- how we could make sure that we weren't actually engaging friendly forces. I received assurances from him that any convoys coming north were going to be Taliban, that there weren't going to be any friendlies coming up from that direction. ...

Prior to leaving the governor's mansion, I had asked Hamid to get together as many forces as he could, and have them meet there at the headquarters. I'd move out as soon as I had a force. We ended up actually moving out at about 4:30 or 5. I don't know what time it was. I knew it was getting close to sunrise; we had to go. At that point, we only had about 20 or 30 Afghanis with us, with their trucks. ... So we pilled onto them, and we moved out. Through the map analysis that my men did, we were pretty sure that if the Taliban came and attacked the town, they'd go through one major mountain pass. There were two passes on the map that looked possible. One seemed a little bit more likely. So we guessed -- hoped -- we were correct.

As we're driving out, initially we planned on setting up on a mountain that overlooked the pass. But instead, as we were driving out there, we reached almost the edge of this plateau that opened up into a big wide valley, a big bowl. At the other end of the bowl was that major pass. It was just perfect terrain to defend from. From there, we had great visibility. We could bomb them as they came through the mountain pass. It was just excellent. The enemy would be "canalized." You could not have asked for better terrain.

So we dismounted our vehicles. My men started to try to organize the guerrillas into some sort a local defense. We didn't have enough people to really defend against a large attack. But our hopes at that point were to stop them with our aircraft anyway.

Were those guys that were with you there experienced fighters?

The Afghanis with us, I'm sure that most of them had fired weapons before. But at the same time, they really weren't an organized force. ... We knew that a lot [more] fighters were going to be converging on Tarin Kowt if we could hold onto it. But at that point, we didn't have anybody but these guys. So we did what we could.

As we started to set up, we pulled out our laser designation equipment. We got our radios set up. One of my men was scanning the area with binoculars. He's looking at the mountain pass. He says to me, "I think there's a vehicle parked in the mountain pass." ...

I said, "We'll keep an eye on it," because at least it was a parked vehicle, so that was good. Almost on cue -- it was almost sort of like the beginning of a race or something -- the vehicles started racing into the valley. Dust was kicked up. We all looked. It was very obvious the convoy was entering the valley. ... Right away, Alan got on the radio and called troops in contact. We began dropping bombs on the convoy.

The first bomb that landed actually missed. It was bit anti-climatic, because we're on the radio; we hear that the bombs are away, OK, two seconds, and boom! It missed. That didn't help our confidence a whole lot. But then the next bomb was right on target. The next bomb after that was right on target. We were definitely starting to take them out. As I had hoped, as they started to get into the valley, we were just pummeling them.

As we're focusing on this convoy coming in and vectoring aircraft into the area, we all noticed that the soldiers that were with us, the freedom fighters, started getting in their vehicles started to leave. They basically started to panic.

In fairness, if I'd been in their position, I probably would have felt the same way, because none of them had worked with aircraft before. They'd certainly never worked with us, because of our lack of time to train them. They didn't know what we were actually about to bring down on the Taliban. So to them, we were crazy. I mean, here's this huge convoy and only about 40 of us, at that point, trying to defend on this big piece of rock. They wanted to get back to the town where there were more people.

So because of the language barrier, we couldn't dissuade them from leaving. They were essentially starting to drive away. A couple of us had to get in front of the trucks and go, "OK, wait, wait, wait. We're getting in," because the 11 of us couldn't stay without transportation.

Somebody had warned me once, that in a situation like this, to always make sure that you keep the car keys. I'd unfortunately forgotten that word of advice. So we piled in the vehicles and we started to withdraw. It was very frustrating. All of us were yelling for them to stop, trying to get them to stop. We'd get one vehicle to stop, and the other vehicles would drive on. Another vehicle would stop. Then when the other sets of vehicles would pass, it would keep driving.

Finally, it was clear we're going to have to get back to Tarin Kowt. What I hoped to do was get back to Tarin Kowt, then gain control of some of the vehicles and finish what we'd started. It really felt like we were seizing defeat from the jaws of victory at that point. We were still bringing in aircraft. But you really need to kind of vector the aircraft into the right area. You can't just say, "Hey, go in that direction and start bombing things." It really does take a lot of work to get them focused in the right direction.

Later, we'd start to get FACs -- forward air controllers -- in the air that were able to alleviate a lot of what Alan had to do, because they were in the air circling. But at that point, the battle was just developing.

So we drove back to Tarin Kowt at a high rate of speed, bouncing up and down. Those of us that were in the backs of the trucks were almost hurled out as our small convoy raced back into Tarin Kowt. Once we got in there, we stopped in front of the headquarters. Hamid Karzai was out front, organizing people. I got out and told him what had happened. ... I said, "The Taliban are coming. There are a lot of them. These fighters we're with didn't understand our capabilities; they kind of ran. I need to take these vehicles, get out there and keep doing what I'm doing, and at that point, take them." I told him, "Send as many guys as you can, as fast as you can. We're going to go do what we can to save the town." So I looked at one of my guys ... I said, "Do you want to drive?" He said, "Hell, yes," and jumped in the car. We took off.

We received reports from the Navy jets overhead that the Taliban had already gotten up there and taken the observation post that we'd been located on originally. So we ended up just stopping outside of town. We looked around and that was the place of the best visibility. We still wouldn't be able to see the convoy much at all, but we could at least direct the aircraft. We could set up our radios. That could be sort of our "no penetration line."

If the Taliban got past us, we lost the town. I had no real hopes whatsoever of keeping the town if the Taliban made it into the town in large numbers, because there was just nothing we could do. All the aircraft in the world weren't going to help us once the Taliban got into the town and it turned into a military operation on urban terrain, because we couldn't exactly bomb the town to save it. So if we couldn't stop them before they got into the town, the fight was lost, and we were going to have to grab Hamid get out of there. So we set up it. At that point, everybody got into action. ...

I had my three [communications] guys sending all the necessary reports, so everybody knew what was going on as we're vectoring in aircraft. Meanwhile, the people from the village started pouring out. There were a bunch of older people with weapons. It almost turned into like a circus atmosphere. It started to get crazy. We're directing air strikes and all these people are surrounding us. Children are pointing and laughing, trying to like get into our rucksacks and look at all the stuff that we have.

At that point, my weapons sergeants started moving the crowds back, grabbing the armed men and getting them set up in a some sort of a defense. One of my men grabbed one of the older people who spoke some English and explained to them, "Keep all the kids away from the vehicles. If you can, send them back home. I mean, there's a fight going on here."

So at this point, everybody was very busy. It was really a pretty amazing sight to watch a team in action like that. ...

We were starting to get a pretty good defense. We kept bombing the convoy. We worked the aircraft so the lead elements in the convoy were struck first. At this point, it was maybe 7 or 8 in the morning. I don't know what time it was. With the adrenaline going, you lose track of that. But we'd successfully destroyed or driven off the lead elements of the convoy. The convoy was apparently very spread out. We just started working our way back, striking targets all along that main road.

A couple of vehicles from the convoy took sort of a back road to the edge of town. They dismounted with probably 10 or 20 Taliban soldiers. We'd learn later that most of them were Pakistani. We heard small arms fire on the edge of town. At that point, we were on about the eastern side of town, and this was more on the northeastern side of town. Fortunately, a bunch of the villagers were already reinforcing that area and returning fire.

But when we heard the small arms fire that, that sounded to me like it might have been over for us. If they made it into the town from that northeast flank there, there wasn't going to be a whole lot we could do, especially if they were in numbers. Later we'd figure out there really only were about 10 or 20 guys, and they were driven off. But if that had been a large force, even as few as 50 or 100, we wouldn't have had the ability to do a whole lot about it. We would have to get in, grab Hamid Karzai, and get out of there before the village fell.

It was a pretty ugly situation -- lots of highs and lows. I mean, initially we're bombing the convoy, OK, we're going to win here. Then all of a sudden, we're forced to retreat, OK, we're not going to win here. Then we set up and we keep dropping bombs, and it looks like things are going well, OK, good. Then there's fire erupting on the edge of town, OK, what did I miss?

Eventually, the small arms started to trickle down on the edge of town. That's when it sounded like things were OK. Through sending runners, we found out that the Taliban hadn't made it in from that side. Some of my men wanted to go over there. But with things in such peril, I didn't want to split my force. I had to keep everybody close in case we had to fight with our own small arms, or in case we had to get out of there.

Then there was just a point at which we knew we had won. That decisive point of the battle had been reached. We received reports that the convoy was no longer heading towards us. It was starting to turn around and try to get out of there. That's when there was sort of a grim satisfaction in the reports we'd be hearing. The pilot would call in, "OK, this one is heading down. He thinks I can't see him. Take that!" and boom, OK, he's gone.

We just started tearing the convoy apart as it started to retreat. We kept bombing for another couple of hours. I think the battle was over by about 10:30. It was clear that we'd won a major victory. We'd hear varying reports about casualty estimates. For me, personally, I never much cared about that. The important thing was that we'd won the fight and driven the Taliban back. ...

Karzai said it was a decisive victory; from his perspective, why?

When I spoke to Hamid Karzai almost immediately after the fight, he told me that a member of the religious mullahs in the area had come to see him. Actually it was that evening. He'd been really concerned about what they were going to say. He was afraid that they were there to say, "The Americans are here. They brought this upon us. We need to leave." But instead, they said, "If the Americans hadn't been here, we all would have been killed," meaning the reprisal against them for what had happened and the uprising in the first place.

With the religious mullahs on our side, we were really in psychologically with the Pashtun tribes. Rapport had been established, trust had been gained, and now we could get on with fighting. Now we can become task-focused on, "Let's get to Kandahar, and let's end this war." So in that regard, it was just psychologically a crushing victory for us.

Hamid would later tell me that, in his eyes, that fight broke the back of the Taliban. Again, I think it was more in psychological terms. I've heard different estimates of how many of them we killed. It's hard to say for sure. But I think psychologically what happened was the Taliban launched a very large force with a lot of a lot of well-trained soldiers, according to the accounts I would see it. We'd crushed them and sent them back to Kandahar.

They'd never tried that again in numbers like that. They'd never trying coming north in that fashion. They continued to try to operate in the area, but they never tried to raise a military force to come after us again. For them, the fight in the north was essentially lost that day. ...

How did the battle change Karzai's stature? People react to him differently now that he'd sort of won this battle.

From what I could see, Karzai was always taken seriously. Before the battle, he was speaking to the Northern Alliance. He was talking to them specifically about, "Make sure you treat the prisoners well," and things like that. There was a great deal of dialogue going on. So politically, he had a great deal of clout.

His fight in this campaign could do one of two things for him: If he had lost, he had been driven out of Afghanistan, out of Tarin Kowt, then that would have marred him, because he would have lost a great deal of credibility. In order to be a well-respected leader in that area, you need to be a good leader, have them respect your character and your affiliations to your tribes. They respect how you deal with people.

You also need to have some teeth to back that up. That fight in Tarin Kowt showed that we had teeth, because we didn't do it with many guys. So it was a huge victory with 30 Pashtuns. It really was a very big victory for Hamid, both militarily, and also in terms of just establishing his credibility with all the other leaders in the area that had been fighting, for decades, in some cases. You know, Hamid Karzai was a leader to be reckoned with.

After that victory, how did your command and control situation change on the ground?

After we'd been on the ground in Tarin Kowt for a while, we started receiving overtures from Kandahar that they were possibly going to surrender to us. Within Kandahar, you had Al Qaeda and Taliban forces all mixed up. The Taliban were leaning towards wanting to surrender to us. The Al Qaeda were sort of sealing off the area to keep the Taliban from escaping. So it was a very difficult situation in Kandahar.

Hamid wanted to get within at least driving distance of Kandahar -- that is a few hours away, maybe a couple of hours away. So you could drive up and they could have face-to-face talks, and open up the dialogue to try to secure the surrender of Kandahar. At that point, Kandahar was really the last sort of capital city that was not taken over yet by the Northern Alliance or other freedom fighters. In a lot of aspects, it was the spiritual capital of the Taliban, so we saw it as sort of the key to victory.

So we organized our forces in preparation for moving down there. Our intent was to move to a town ... about a quarter of the way between Tarin Kowt and Kandahar. We would set up our new headquarters there. That was about the time that the special operations command and control element came in to assist with us. We also had the Marines, which were at that point southwest of Kandahar. We also had another ODA [Operations Detachment Alpha, or "A-team"] that was coming north from Pakistan. So the SOC-CE was going to be able to coordinate all the pieces, and make sure that we were all gelled together in a coordinated effort to get Kandahar. ...

From November 17 until about the end of the month, for about two weeks, we'd be bombing things, securing the area, bringing in food, bringing in weapons -- working on securing the area, with all sorts of coordinations. We were trying to figure out how and when to take Kandahar. I had a relatively conservative approach. I thought we probably should have an army before we try to take Kandahar, and I still didn't have one.

We were making so much progress in Oruzgan province just by being in Tarin Kowt. ... For the next few weeks, everybody was surrendering to us. I mean "surrender" in a sense of just giving up loyalty to the Taliban -- taking down the flag and raising the Afghani flag. ... Towards the end of the month, we started flooding Tarin Kowt with so many people that Hamid wanted to just start moving. He was like, "Look, we've got all these guys here who are going to start getting rowdy. We need to do something with them." He wanted to go to Kandahar.

He kind of gave me the option on this. He said, "We can bring everybody, but then I'll be bringing a lot of bad guys with me that are going, too. They might be moody. They might not be very desirable. Or I could just bring the best, the most trusted guys, but it won't be as big a force."

Obviously, we went with the better crew. So I think on November 30 we started moving to Kandahar. We to go down and take a town ... [just] north of Kandahar. We drove all night, and got to just kind of the southern side of the Hindu Kush. We set up there for another day and brought in more supplies. Then we kept driving down.

We left in two elements. The main body had probably 150 guys. I don't know how many; honestly, it was just an enormous mob. They included Hamid and half of my team. I led my half and my team sergeant, JD, led the other half. My element was going to stay about three hours ahead of the main body. We were going to basically clear the way to [the town]. If we ran into any trouble -- although there aren't too many bad guys - [we'd] take them down ourselve. If necessary, we'd pull back to the main body. We'd hold up, find a good place to defend, and then we fight for whatever property we need.

For the most part, the Taliban really just were running. We continued to bomb targets at night. We were hitting different things, but no Taliban got close to us. Then on December 3, my element hit [town]. There were three loads of Taliban that took one look at us and just drove away. ...

[We continued south] to the village of Shawali Kowt, and that's where the Taliban decided to make a stand. We go rolling in. I had my guerrillas leading in their vehicles. I left about 20 guys in [the first town], just to secure it. I kept pushing down with about 30 guys. When we got to the outside of Shawali Kowt, you have those ridgelines just out of town. My guys got up there to clear the ridgeline and look into town. The town just started opening up on us.

I don't know how many guys were in the town. I don't. We'll just say somewhere between 30 and 50 guys were in town. They're opening up on my guys, and my guys start to withdraw. It was pretty withering fire. I had aircraft overhead the whole town, but I didn't want to bomb the town.

So that was where we got up there ourselves, got up on the ridge and started shooting at the Taliban. We could outshoot them. So the Taliban ran away. Once we got the Taliban running, then we got our guerrillas back up. We went into the town and we secured it.

Then the night of the December 3, Karzai was up on [the hill] for the night--the hill [where me and my guys] ultimately got bombed. The Taliban came north to counterattack us from Kandahar. It's hard to say how many guys came across. My estimate at the time was a company-size force; a company would be about 100 guys. ...

How many guys did you have?

We had 20 or 30. ... So we're surrounded. Most of the guerrillas run away ... they just withdraw. ... We got up on the hill. We set up a mortar tube. A lot of my guerrillas got cut off in their retreat, so we sent a recon out to identify the locations of all the guerrillas to mark their locations with strobe lights. Then we brought in gunships. The AC-130 gunships shot and pounded the Taliban all night until the Taliban retreated. ...

[What happened on December 5]?

On the morning of December 5 ... the headquarters was directing air strikes against the ridgeline across from us. One of the guys messed up and brought in the bomb on us. So when the bomb hit them, the last count that I got, the latest number was I lost about 27 of my guerrillas. JD and Dan died instantly really. Cody Prosser, was a friend of mine that came in with the headquarters, was mortally wounded. He lived for a while, but there wasn't anything that could be done with him really.

Then we just went into kind of trauma mode at that point. We pulled all the guys off the hill and went to work, taking care of guys' injuries. I don't know how many of the Afghanis were way over the edge in terms of critical injuries. It was hard for me to estimate, because there were just so many people wounded at that point. I've heard numbers as high as like 50 or 60 wounded. But I don't know if that's including us. I'm not really sure where that number came from. But among my guys, three of my guys were had pretty life-threatening wounds. Ronnie had a shrapnel that went through his lung. He was torn up with shrapnel in other places.

Mike had a major shrapnel wound to his chest that was affecting everything -- his heart, his lungs. His other wrist was pretty badly injured and he had some other lacerations. ... Everybody else was wounded to one extent or another. We just went to work stabilizing everybody, and it worked. I mean, the guys that died -- there was no helping them. From the guys on my team, everybody else lived.

Just so many of the Afghanis were hurt. We did what we could for all of them. But then at a certain point, they medevaced us out with the most critically injured Afghanis. Then we ended up pulling more Afghanis out after that.

The other thing that was supposed to go on that day was Kandahar was sending a delegation to talk about surrender. So the irony was that, three days later, Kandahar surrendered. They might have surrendered that day to us ... .

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Solitary NationApril 22nd