If it seems like the war in Afghanistan has gone on forever, perhaps it is because it has dragged on for an entire generation. The United States has been involved there for over 17 years and there seems to be no end game in sight. And the cost has been very high. More than 4000 Americans (military and civilian contractors) have been killed in Afghanistan. Today, we’ll remember the first fatality from enemy action, Nathan Ross Chapman from the 1st Special Forces Group, who was detailed to the CIA Team Hotel. Chapman was killed on January 4, 2002, in Khost, Afghanistan.
Born into a military family, Chapman was born at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where his father was stationed. He graduated high school from Centerville High School in Ohio and was active with the wrestling team. He immediately joined the Army and went to Ft. Benning for Basic, Advanced Infantry Training and Ranger training before being assigned to the 2nd Ranger Bn at Ft. Lewis, Washington.
In December of 1989, Chapman participated in the invasion of Panama during Operation Just Cause and parachuted into the airfield at Rio Hato, where the Rangers seized the airfield and took down Manuel Noriega’s beach house which had a headquarters in the upper floors.
In 1991, Chapman would once again go into combat during Desert Storm in January 1991. Later that year, he volunteered for Special Forces training and attended SFAS, and the Special Forces Qualification Course at Ft. Bragg, NC. He graduated in December 1992 as an 18E (Communications Sergeant) and then attended the Defense Language Institute’s Tagalog course, finishing in June of 1993.
Chapman was assigned to the 3rd Bn, 1st SFG(A) in July of 1993 and served on ODAs A-185 and A-195. During 1995, he went with his unit to Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy. In 1998, Chapman was assigned to 1st Bn, 1st SFG(A) on Okinawa and served there for three years. He returned to Ft. Lewis and the 3/1 SFG in 2001.
After 9/11 he volunteered for a special mission in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Before he left, he told his wife that his chances of returning were 50/50. They took a family photo and he gave her a heart pendant that they broke so that each could take half.
But after arriving in the country, his odds of surviving got better. The Americans with Northern Alliance allies and massive U.S. air support battered the Taliban and bottled them and al-Qaeda up in Tora Bora including Osama bin Laden.
On the fateful day of January 4, Chapman was with a group of 25 Special Operators, CIA men and their Afghan allies commanded by Zakim Khan Zadran. Team Hotel consisted of three Green Berets, two CIA Paramilitary Officers, and one CIA Contractor. When they arrived in Khost, they were met by Afghans loyal to Padsha Khan Zadran, who, although are unrelated belong to the same clan of Pashtuns who dominate the surrounding area.
In a story that goes back hundreds if not a thousand years, the two warlords were locked in a jealous struggle for power and prestige. With the Taliban on the run, the power vacuum opened the door for old rivalries to take center stage.
Padsha Khan Zadran ordered his men to fire on the Americans at their checkpoint in order to convince American commanders to ditch Zakim Khan Zadran and force their alliance to him. To Chapman and the other Americans, they were searching for information that both bin Laden and Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani were holed up in the mountains outside of town.
After the Americans had met with both warlords they set out to inspect two sites where American airstrikes had hit Taliban targets about 3 miles away. One target, a bombed-out mosque, Chapman conducted bomb assessment damage and then drove to a fort where Taliban tanks had taken a beating from U.S. airstrikes.
As they approached a checkpoint manned by Padsha Khan Zadran’s men, Chapman was standing in the rear of the truck with a camera around his neck. Shots rang out, Chapman slumped in the back of the truck, severely wounded. Before he collapsed, he emptied his M-4 in the direction of the enemy. By the time they got back to where they’d left from just a short time before, he was dead. A CIA Paramilitary Officer from the Special Activities Division was wounded.
The fighters loyal to Zakim Khan Zadran stated the fire came directly from the checkpoint but the other warlord disagreed. He claimed that the firing came from 50 yards away behind a half-finished mosque. He said his men had arrested a 14-year-old boy who claimed that he had fired the shots to avenge the removal of the Taliban and the bombing of the mosque. Conveniently, the boy escaped from confinement two days later and fled to Pakistan.
However, witnesses identified three men who fired the shots as fighters of Padsha Khan Zadran who then also, conveniently, fled to Pakistan.
Chapman’s body was returned to Washington state and he was buried about a week later in Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Washington. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star with “V” device, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Achievement Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Humanitarian Service Medal, the United Nations Medal, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, the Southwest Asia Service Medal with Bronze Service Star, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal with arrowhead, the Army Good Conduct Medal (3rd Award), the Armed Forces Service Medal, the Joint Meritorious Service Unit Award, the Army Superior Unit Award, the Combat Infantryman Badge second award, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Parachutist Combat Badge with bronze service star, the Special Forces Combat Divers Badge, the Special Forces Tab, the Ranger Tab, and the Royal Thai Army Parachutist Badge.
He left behind his wife Renae and two children a daughter Amanda (2) and a son Brandon (1) who were too young to remember their father.
The CIA honored Chapman in 2015 by unveiling a star on their Memorial Wall in his honor.