During October and early November of 2001, the United States was hitting back hard at the Taliban in the early days of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Taliban had no idea of what was soon to engulf them.
US and coalition airstrikes pounded Taliban positions. Two US Green Beret teams (ODA-595, ODA-555 The “Horse Soldiers, with Air Force Combat Controllers) inserted into the country with the help of CIA Special Activities Division and linked up with Northern Alliance (anti-Taliban) fighters. In the south, Navy SEALs and in the northwest British SAS were setting up and conducting special operations. Army Rangers jumped in via parachute and seized a key airfield in Kandahar. More SF A-Teams were inserted and one by one, the key cities in Afghanistan fell to the U.S. and Northern Alliance soldiers.
ODA-574 Brings in the Future President:
On November 14, the U.S. inserted ODA-574, another Special Forces A-Team into Afghanistan. It was commanded by CPT Jason Amerine and CWO Bob Pennington and inserted into Uruzgan Province on 4 MH-60K helicopters with Hamid Karzai and a small band of guerrillas loyal to him.
As the force of US and Afghan fighters closed on the town of Tarin Kowt, with about 10,000 people, the local inhabitants revolted against the Taliban controlling the area and expelled them. As Karzai met with the village elders, the Taliban decided to strike back at the village and take it back. They approached the town with 500 fighters.
Karzai a Pashtun, lobbied the U.S. that many Pashtun were allies with the Taliban only out of a sense of survival. He went into Afghanistan prior to the American insertion to round up guerrilla fighters. Another Pashtun leader, Abdul Haq was captured and killed by the Taliban and Karzai escaped into Pakistan with a few followers.
Karzai met with the Green Berets prior to the insertion and the Pashtun leader brought the team up to date on the intelligence in the area.
“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,” Amerine remembered after the battle.
Battle of Tarin Kowt:
The combined coalition force was hugely outnumbered by more than 5-1. But the Air Force combat controller attached to ODA-574, Tech Sgt Alex Yoshimoto was a force multiplier and the ODA’s lifeline to the combat aircraft of the coalition in the skies overhead. Amerine correctly deduced that the Taliban’s forces would attack thru the Tarin Kowt Pass. He set up his small team of SF troops and the ragtag untrained guerrillas who didn’t speak English on the plateau overlooking the wide valley below.
Yoshimoto had three F-18 Hornets above them to provide cover, as the first bomb dropped into the valley on the Taliban, the untrained guerrillas with the Americans panicked. Not realizing what was happening, they raced to the trucks and fled back to Tarin Kowt.
The Americans were forced to do the same. Nevertheless, Yoshimoto once again leaped into action. After alerting the aircraft of the tactical situation on the ground, he organized the defense thru the air of the town.
The Taliban split into three groups, Yoshimoto decided to take out the one in the middle first. It was the largest of the three. As Air Force bombers took a toll on the approaching Taliban, they smashed the attacking force.
Only one small group of Taliban managed to reach the rear entrance of the town but they were quickly repulsed and bombed on their retreat. In the end, more than 30 vehicles and over 300 Taliban were killed.
The word quickly spread and one-by-one the towns began switching their allegiance over to Karzai. The Americans now had a Southern Alliance to go along with the Northern Alliance.
Tragedy at the “Alamo” in Shawali Kowt:
As the force moved on Kandahar, they attacked the town of Shawali Kowt on December 2. The Taliban counter-attacked with over 100 fighters. Most of the guerrillas bolted and retreated back. The ODA with just 25 guerrillas who stuck it out, retreated to a hill that was surrounded that the Green Berets dubbed the Alamo.
They called in AC-130 gunship runs to pound the Taliban assembly areas. For the next two days, they called in numerous airstrikes and pounded any attempts to take their position. Then a disaster occurred.
An Air Force bomber dropped a joint direct attack munition (JDAM) that landed on the team. MSG Jefferson Davis, the team sergeant for ODA-574and SSG Cody Prosser were killed instantly. SFC Daniel Petithory was seriously injured. Worse, the team called for an immediate medevac to get Petithory to the Marine base at Camp Rhino where then-BG Jim Mattis commanded 1000 Marines 45 minutes away.
Mattis refused to send a medevac because, at the time, he was unsure on whether the bomb was a US miss-dropped weapon or one from the Taliban. Petithory died later that day from his injuries. Five ODA members and Karzai were also wounded, while 20 of Karzai’s men were also killed. It was a bitter memory for the SF troops towards the future Secretary of Defense.
Within five minutes of the accidental bombing, Karzai was notified via radio that he had been chosen to lead the new interim Afghan government. Hours later, with the Southern Alliance troops with the Americans poised outside of Kandahar, the Taliban leader, Mohammed Omar slipped away in the early morning hours of December 6. The so-called “spiritual home” of the Taliban was in the hands of the Green Berets and Karzai. Just four days later Karzai was sworn in as the Interim Prime Minister.
ODA-574 was awarded three Silver Stars, four Bronze Star Medals for Valor, three Bronze Star Medals, and eleven Purple Hearts during their combat deployment.
Then the US, just as Congressman Charlie Wilson had proclaimed after the Russians were kicked out of Afghanistan a decade before “fucked up the end game.” With the speed at which the Special Operations troops took the country, no one in the US government or the military bothered to plan on what to do after the Taliban was out.
The Special Forces troops were quickly shooshed out of the country, and replaced by the “Big Army” units. But none of the brigades sent into Afghanistan had any experience of working with the Afghan people and leaders. It was…and is a clusterfuck.
According to Amerine, interviewed just a few years ago, the troops coming in didn’t have the experience of working hand-in-hand with the Afghan leaders. “All of that was forgotten and kind of left behind, and that was kind of the tragedy of what followed,” Amerine said. “When big Army came in, 5th SF Group picked up and went to Iraq. All of our relationships were lost. They had to reinvent the wheel.”
But a handful of Special Operations forces showed how valuable unconventional warfare methods are…when placed in the right hands. The years of hard training and working elsewhere by, with and thru local forces had paid off in spades.
“There is another type of warfare, new in its intensity, ancient
in its origin, war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents,
assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration
instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and
exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on
– President John F. Kennedy
Photo: Special Forces ODA-574 with Hamid Karzai (US Army)