From the Publisher
“One of the most important documents to emerge from the war in Afghanistan.”—The Seattle Times
“Powerful . . . a riveting account of a strategic battle that doesn’t glorify war or focus on heroic deeds . . . Make room on your military bookshelf for Lions of Kandahar.”—San Antonio Express-News
“Bradley takes the reader into battle.”—Time
“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
“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
“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
Read an Excerpt
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
—attributed to Edmund Burke
The first rounds slammed into the windshield like a jackhammer. I winced, expecting the worst. Luckily, the bullet-resistant glass did its job, otherwise my brains would have been blown all over the truck. Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) shot by just feet away, so close I could see the spring-loaded stabilizer fins that can easily shear off men’s heads, arms, legs, and destroy a small vehicle with appalling quickness. Their vapor trails hung in the air. The roar of machine guns was deafening, overwhelming. We had just arrived at the battlefield.
Operation Medusa, the largest NATO-led offensive in history, was turning into an absolute disaster. Nearby, the main Canadian advance had stalled, and then stopped altogether, ambushed by anti-armor assaults and then enveloped in urban firefights. My Special Forces team and our Afghan allies were five minutes into a savage firefight at the base of Sperwan Ghar, a remote hill in the Panjwayi district in western Kandahar Province. Two other SF teams were also leading Afghan soldiers up the hill under heavy fire. If we could seize the hill, we could call in air strikes to help our NATO allies.
The first two minutes of a fight are the most precious. You know who you are up against in the first thirty seconds, if you live that long. The machine guns that raked our Ground Mobility Vehicles (GMVs) and the volleys of RPGs told me that we were up against enemies who knew exactly what they were doing. Already, the Taliban fighters had dealt the nearby Canadian mechanized units a severe blow, killing nearly a dozen and destroying several vehicles. I could hear the Canadians on the radio. They were fighting for their lives. We all were.
This was my third tour in Afghanistan, and when I’d departed seven months earlier we’d nearly chased the Taliban out of Kandahar. They were supposed to be broken and defeated. But since then, NATO forces had assumed control of southern Afghanistan, replacing American units with a collection of troops from around the world. The NATO commanders focused heavily on setting up reconstruction teams and less on combat and maintaining security, critical to the reconstruction efforts. Five years into the war, the change in strategy would result in the bloodiest period since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.
We’d been warned that the Taliban had returned in force. They had massed thousands of fighters in Panjwayi, their heartland, and had their sights set on overrunning Kandahar city, the capital of the province and of southern Afghanistan. These guys weren’t bush-league Taliban villagers. This wasn’t the Taliban of old that “sprayed and prayed,” hoping Allah willed them to kill the infidel and live another day. These Taliban were using well-coordinated and synchronized movements. After a volley of airburst rocket-propelled-grenade rounds, the enemy followed up with well-placed RPG rounds aimed directly at our heavy machine gunners, hoping to disable the guns or kill their operators. This was our first glimpse of a resurgent Taliban movement wholly focused on pushing the coalition forces out of southern Afghanistan. Now, hunkered down in our trucks, we faced firepower rarely seen since the first months of the war.
Hard thumping cracks of gunfire from the right rear of my truck startled me. I sat sidesaddle, facing out, and turned my head just in time to see the intense red glow of another RPG slam into the ground. The red tracers that immediately followed from the Taliban machine guns struck our vehicles and the earth around us, ricocheting in all directions. I swung my M240 machine gun in that direction as fast as I could. The matrix of irrigation ditches, which ran six feet deep in some places, thick vegetation, and grape-drying huts exploded with enemy fire.
“Contact right, contact right!” I screamed over the roar of the guns. Every machine gun and grenade launcher on my team’s trucks erupted toward the Taliban positions. The race was on to pour as much firepower into the enemy as possible.
Just as we were beginning to gain an edge, a mud fortress and its surrounding buildings directly in front of my truck suddenly opened up. We were in the open and exposed. Rounds skipped all around inside and outside the vehicle, then the flash. An RPG exploded on the truck’s front bumper. My teeth hurt and I had the strong metallic taste of explosives in my mouth. The confusion and pain assured me I was alive. We had enemy fighters to our right, front, and left. Their ambush almost cut our column in half, preventing any reinforcements from getting into the fight. This was their goal from the start. Divide the unit, cause confusion, and destroy each of us individually. We needed air support NOW!
Dutch Apache helicopter gunships circled above us. The thumping sound of the Apaches’ 30-mm cannon fire was sweet music. The gunships made runs on the heavily defended buildings to drive out the occupants. The first two of four 2.75-inch rockets from the Apaches slammed high into the grape house less than a football field away. The sharp cracks of the explosions marked a good hit. As the dust cleared from the rocket blasts, our Afghan Army soldiers opened fire and cut down the four or five Taliban fighters who came stumbling out of the building, dazed and confused. Good kills usually drop like rag dolls, as these did.
I figured we were facing about fifty to eighty fighters in and around the hill. We had about sixty Afghans and thirty Special Forces soldiers in three A-teams and one command and control B-team. This B-team was supposed to be composed of twelve additional men, but this was just four in one truck. Our target, Sperwan Ghar, jutted out of the valley of farms separated by deep irrigation ditches. It was prime real estate because whoever owned it could see up and down the valley and across the river, where the Canadians were getting mauled.
As we desperately tried to push up the hill, we radioed back to the tactical operations center (TOC) for more information. They were watching a live feed from a Predator drone flying over the battlefield that revealed a drastically different scenario than we had been briefed on.
“Talon 30, this is Eagle 10. Here is your situation: The enemy count is not dozens, but hundreds, maybe even a thousand. They are everywhere! Do you copy, over?”
We’d already shot half of our ammo. Now we knew we were horrifically outnumbered and outgunned. We faced hundreds of Taliban fighters, with more pouring in from all directions.
We were in very serious trouble.