The reality of war is that victories are often won in the unseen areas, the gritty underbelly of a place far away where Special Forces execute their missions with precision, bravado, and an unyielding dedication to their countries. This is the story of Operation Viking Hammer, an unsung story of heroism that spotlighted the unparalleled mettle of the U.S. Special Forces.

Time for a quick snapshot en route to Objective Yahtzee.

Against the backdrop of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while international headlines were captivated by the broader war narrative, a small team of Green Berets was tasked with a mission critical to the success of the more extensive campaign. Tasked from the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), these soldiers were entrusted with Operation Viking Hammer: the destruction of a formidable Ansar al-Islam base entrenched in the problematic mountainous region of Northern Iraq.

The objective was daunting; elements of Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda, were well-fortified in the rugged landscape. They boasted a force nearly twice the size of the Green Berets. The element of surprise, the deft execution of unconventional warfare, and an alliance with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters was the U.S. team’s strategy to level the playing field.

Operation Viking Hammer
Searching ruins of AQ chemical facility. That’s right; we found a chemical plant. (Source: Kurdee2130/Wikimedia Commons)

The operation, launched in late March 2003, saw the Green Berets and their Kurdish allies advance through the treacherous terrain under a cloak of darkness. The opening salvo was a hailstorm of precision airstrikes, tearing into the enemy’s defenses and sowing chaos in their ranks. This was the cue for the ground forces to spring into action.

The clash was fierce. Outnumbered but not outgunned, the Special Forces and their allies pierced through enemy lines, their advance relentless and unwavering. The enemy fought back viciously, the rugged terrain and their familiarity with it giving them the edge. But with their lethal combination of specialized training, tactical acumen, and sheer tenacity, the Green Berets began to turn the tide.

The innovation of the Special Forces soldiers played a decisive role. Anecdotal reports from the operation revealed that the Green Berets utilized unconventional methods to dismantle the enemy. One such instance involved the usage of PSYOPs broadcasts that reverberated through the valleys, announcing to the enemy their impending doom.

For four grueling days, the SF troops and their Kurdish allies engaged Ansar al-Islam in a bloody battle of attrition. The rough terrain proved to be both a challenge and a tool; the Green Berets ingeniously used the mountains to their advantage, exploiting the enemy’s vulnerabilities and pushing them back.

By the time the dust settled, the American soldiers had achieved their objective. The Ansar al-Islam stronghold was shattered, and their threat to the broader Iraq invasion was neutralized. Operation Viking Hammer was a resounding success, a testament to the ferocity, adaptability, and indomitable spirit of the U.S. Army Special Forces.

Casualties to the Peshmerga were light: 3 KIA and 23 wounded. Roughly 100 Kurds died in the fighting, and as many as 200 Ansar fighters met their end. Thankfully, there were not any American casualties. 

Operation Viking Hammer remains a somewhat obscure example of our Special Forces warriors’ courage, resourcefulness, and resilience. It showcases the daunting challenges these soldiers face, the grit required to overcome impossible odds, and the sacrifices made in the line of duty.

Though not widely publicized, the echoes of Operation Viking Hammer reverberate in our community. It has been said that these brave men operate in the shadows to protect the freedoms we enjoy under the sunlight. The unsung heroes of Operation Viking Hammer deserve their place in our collective memory, their story an enduring testament to the indomitable spirit of the U.S. military.

Want to know more? Check this book: “Operation Viking Hammer: One Green Beret’s Firsthand Account of Unconventional Warfare in Iraq, 2003.”