A Letter from the Author
President Obama announced that 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan will return home this year and another 23,000 will redeploy by summer 2012.
For me, it wasn't an announcement. It was an order by my commander-in-chief and a decision well above my pay grade. Debates over troop levels and strategy are left to the men who wear stars on their uniforms or suits in Washington.
My war is one that is fought every day like it is Sept. 12, 2001, whether I am in Afghanistan or not. As an Army officer, I watched, initially horrified, as the planes hit the World Trade Center and knew that I was going to war. I've done so five times. But my view has always been from the ground floor. I am the action arm of my commander-in-chief, not a policy maker.
In the summer of 2006, my orders were simple: partner with the Afghan army and assist the Canadians as they launched a major NATO offensive through the Panjwayi Valley in southern Afghanistan during Operation Medusa. The mission didn't go as planned, and my fellow Green Berets and I, with our Afghan allies, seized a key hill--Sperwan Ghar--from Taliban and foreign fighters, taking the pressure off our Canadian allies trapped in the valley. Over the next eleven days, we held off wave after wave of Taliban fighters before we finally broke them. I spent the rest of that rotation building a base and establishing a series of checkpoints that attempted to secure the valley.
We did the best we could to keep the lid on things in Afghanistan until the cavalry arrived. And they arrived last year. With the help of the U.S. troop surge, we were able to establish new footholds, consolidate our gains, and expand Afghan Security control while driving the Taliban from several of their critical sanctuaries, including the Panjwayi Valley.
I returned to the valley last summer to assist in establishing security, development, and governance in the valley's villages. As part of a program focused on building up one village at a time, I helped coordinate aid and the training of local police from the district level with the goal of creating a stable local government that could eventually link in with the national one in Kabul.
What our units did in 2006 is still a very critical part of the narrative there. Afghans know of the battle for Sperwan Ghar, still remember it, and still know me because of my thick gray beard. The outcome of the battle changed the way the Taliban operates. Where once they fought brazenly in the open, they now hide like cowards in among the Afghan people and fight with IEDs and suicide bombers. And they clearly know the difference between the Special Forces and conventional soldiers and give the "bearded ones" a wider berth.
While the other parts of country are now under control of Afghan security forces, there is still very much a fight in the south. The Panjwayi and Zhari districts are key territory because many of the Taliban's leaders are landowners there. This is their center of gravity and the birthplace of their movement. So they are essentially fighting for their homeland in every sense of the word. It is here that the extra troops matter the most. This summer, the key battles and in some way the fate of the war will be decided on this same battlefield.
I am often asked what I think we should do in Afghanistan. I have my opinions. But when I put on my uniform every morning, that opinion doesn't matter. I know only one thing: my mission was to go to southern Afghanistan, disrupt the Taliban, and assist the Afghan people in building a country.
And I did that.
Do troop levels matter? Absolutely. Every soldier, every commander, wants the best equipment and the most men. But I'll worry about troop levels when I have stars on my uniform. Right now my job is to execute the orders of those who do.
Advance praise for Lions of Kandahar
“A powerful and gripping account of a battle that helped shape the war in Afghanistan. But Lions of Kandahar is more than that. Major Rusty Bradley and Kevin Maurer give readers a stirring inside look at the day-to-day operations of a Special Forces team—and what it takes to defeat insurgents hell-bent on regaining control of Afghanistan. With crisp writing and page-turning action, Lions of Kandahar is one of the best books written about the conflict.”—Mitch Weiss, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist and co-author of the critically acclaimed Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War
“A raw and authentic war story about untamed Green Berets in action. Bradley and Maurer crush it! Mr. President, grab a copy—this is a sure-bet Special Forces exit strategy. Unleash more of these brave lions across Afghanistan and America will win this war.”—Dalton Fury, New York Times bestselling author of Kill Bin Laden: A Delta Force Commander’s Account of the Hunt for the World’s Most Wanted Man
"This is a riveting tale, told from the front lines of the secret war against the Taliban. Lions of Kandahar is the definitive account of a modern Special Forces mission--a must-read for anyone hoping to understand the harsh realities of the Afghan conflict."—David Zucchino, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author of Thunder Run: The Armored Strike to Capture Baghdad
“I have read this book three times and I am still chilled to the bone with every word. In Lions of Kandahar you will be riveted by the unabridged action of our real-life military heroes. It took a group of exceptional individuals to accomplish Operation Medusa. We as a nation can only pray we have half the guts and fortitude given selflessly every day on our behalf by the Army Special Forces.”—Marshall R. Teague, actor; U.S. Navy (ret.)
“The war in Afghanistan is made for Special Forces, but very little has been written about these soldiers since the initial attack on Afghanistan in 2001. Bradley and Maurer do a great job of showing how these elite units fight and why they are so important to the battle against the Taliban. Lions of Kandahar is a gripping, moving, and well-told war story.”—Greg Jaffe, Washington Post reporter and co-author of The Fourth Star: Four Generals and the Epic Struggle for the Future of the United States Army