Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds

Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds

by Rusty Bradley, Kevin Maurer


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One of the most critical battles of the Afghan War is now revealed as never before. Lions of Kandahar is an inside account from the unique perspective of an active-duty U.S. Army Special Forces commander, an unparalled warrior with multiple deployments to the theater who has only recently returned from combat there.

Southern Afghanistan was slipping away. That was clear to then-Captain Rusty Bradley as he began his third tour of duty there in 2006. The Taliban and their allies were infiltrating everywhere, poised to reclaim Kandahar Province, their strategically vital onetime capital. To stop them, the NATO coalition launched Operation Medusa, the largest offensive in its history. The battlefield was the Panjwayi Valley, a densely packed warren of walled compounds that doubled neatly as enemy bunkers, lush orchards, and towering marijuana stands, all laced with treacherous irrigation ditches. A mass exodus of civilians heralded the carnage to come.

Dispatched as a diversionary force in support of the main coalition attack, Bradley’s Special Forces A-team and two others, along with their longtime Afghan Army allies, watched from across the valley as the NATO force was quickly engulfed in a vicious counterattack. Key to relieving it and calling in effective air strikes was possession of a modest patch of high ground called Sperwan Ghar. Bradley’s small detachment assaulted the hill and, in the midst of a savage and unforgettable firefight, soon learned they were facing nearly a thousand seasoned fighters—from whom they seized an impossible victory.

Now Bradley recounts the whole remarkable story as it actually happened. The blistering trek across Afghanistan’s infamous Red Desert. The eerie traces of the elusive Taliban. The close relations with the Afghan people and army, a primary mission focus. Sperwan Ghar itself: unremitting waves of fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades; a targeted truck turned into an inferno; the death trap of a cut-off compound. Most important: the men, Americans and Afghans alike—the “shaky” medic with nerves of steel and a surgeon’s hands in battle; the tireless sergeant who seems to be everywhere at once; the soft-spoken intelligence officer with laser-sharp insight; the diminutive Afghan commander with a Goliath-sized heart; the cool maverick who risks all to rescue a grievously wounded comrade—each unique, all indelible in their everyday exercise of extraordinary heroism.

Praise for Lions of Kandahar
“A raw and authentic war story about untamed Green Berets in action.”—Dalton Fury, New York Times bestselling author of Kill Bin Laden
“A powerful and gripping account of a battle that helped shape the war in 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 Tiger Force: A True Story of Men and War
“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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553807578
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/2011
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 9.28(w) x 6.38(h) x 1.04(d)

About the Author

Major Rusty Bradley was wounded during the Battle of Sperwan Ghar in command of a Special Forces A-team, on his third combat tour as a Special Forces team leader. A native of North Carolina, he graduated from Mars Hill College and enlisted in the Army in 1993, serving as an infantryman for six years before earning his commission from Officer Candidate School in 1999.
Kevin Maurer has been embedded as a reporter with the U.S. Special Forces and 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan and Iraq more than a dozen times in the last five years.

Read an Excerpt

First Contact

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
—attributed to Edmund Burke

September 2006

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.

Table of Contents

Glossary ix

Author's Note xi

Chapter 1 First Contact 3

Chapter 2 That Sewer Smell 7

Chapter 3 Picking a Fight 23

Chapter 4 Welcome Back 29

Chapter 5 Bingo Red One 42

Chapter 6 Operation Medusa 63

Chapter 7 Rat Lines 81

Chapter 8 A Cat-And-Mouse Game 94

Chapter 9 The Red Sands 104

Chapter 10 The Notebook 115

Chapter 11 The Voice of an Angel and Death 131

Chapter 12 "Shoot into the Bushes, Daddy!" 144

Chapter 13 Black on Ammo 155

Chapter 14 Seven Two-Thousand-Pounders 171

Chapter 15 Put Your Mouthpiece In 182

Chapter 16 Friends for Life 191

Chapter 17 "These Jokers Just Don't Give Up!" 205

Chapter 18 Holding On at all Costs 219

Chapter 19 Today Is Not Your Day 229

Chapter 20 A World of Hurt 239

Chapter 21 The Dragon's Back 248

Chapter 22 Firebase Sperwan Ghar 259

Epilogue 271

Acknowledgments 277

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Lions of Kandahar 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
Spikeritz More than 1 year ago
I was stationed in Kandahar 07-08 as the Senior Police Mentor and had one of my PMTs (Police Mentoring teams) at both Masem Ghar and Sperwan Ghar. I got bits and pieces of how 3rd Group had taken control in Panjwaji. I have stood on top of Sperwan Ghar and understood its tactical significance. It brought together the pieces of the puzzle I did not understand. Additionally, I share the Author's frustration with both NATO forces and particularly the Canadians. I could not put the book down. A great story of guts and personal bravery by the SF teams in the fight. My hat is off to my brothers of 3rd SFG! We did many ops with both 3rd and 7th Groups in my tour. I learned volumes from both of those groups of professionals. This book continued my Education, thanks Gentlemen! Tom Ritz COL US Army (Ret)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the book is spellbinging, leaves you wanting more, puts a lump in your throat and tear in the eye. makes you want to thank a vet. every chance you get. they pay a high price.
TechGeek More than 1 year ago
Rust Bradley lived though hell and wrote a book about it. The story is impressive. What a handfull of well trained, dedicated soldiers can do against great odds is compeling reading. I am much impressed with Rusty and his men. Thank God we have such men in our military. Thank you for your service Rusty and that of your men as well.
Alemar More than 1 year ago
An excellent book which flows very well. It is about one specific week or so period and the action is rapid fire. Nice coverage of the SF team on the ground and some on the Afghan forces. Could have had more on them but not a real issue. Enjoyed and marveled at what transpired during this engagement.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
These men showed bravery and unconditional love to each other. I read "Outlaw Platoon" prior to this book. Two different authors with two different styles of writing. The latter book brought you so close to the soldiers you felt you were right beside them. This author approached the story differently and I struggled at first reading the story. I am glad that my determination to finish won. Wonderful story and worth reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a great story about our brave Army SF and air support troops 5 years after 9/11. This is a page burner and lets the rest of us get some feeling of what our SF troops do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Many military books have allowed a deep rapport with the ones actually going through the daily turmoil of trying to stay alive but this book puts one in the humvee! I was sad to close the book at the end knowing I would no longer be with the guys!! Jdl
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The true story of the men, machines, and burning desire for victory in the face of a relentless enemy. I felt like I was right there in the action during this play by play account of a battle that took place in Afghanistan. A truly blood pumping experience.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very clear writing about complicated and often fast moving circumstances. The opposition is much more numerous, and better organized and equiped than is usually described in this conflict. I was unaware of this mission, or for that matter, any similar ones: so perhaps I am not as well informed as some readers. This is a fine book, and I recommend it highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As someone who has read 100s of books about modern US Warfare, Spec Ops, and the GWOT, this book is in the top 5 in my opinion. The writing is superbly metivulous but does not get bogged down in trivial details or confuse newbies with military jargon. The love he has for his men comes through the story clearly and you come away with a greater understanding of the warrior spirit. Muat read for anyone interested in the Afghan war or SpecOps.
AngelZero-One More than 1 year ago
Very well written. Auther doesn't wonder off subject like several books I've read that recount military operations. You get to know most of the participants and feel the pain of their loss. Oddly enough one of the operators that is described in this book sounds like some one I know haha. Either a coincidence, or it's a smaller world than I thought. Anyway if you're looking for a book that brings out the horrible circumstances our military elite face on a routine basis and an insight to the stubborn and deadly determination in which they bring to the battlefield then look no further. This is the book for you. You'll find that not only were our SOF boys heroic in their defiance of an overwhelming enemy, but so were the Afghan soldiers who were under their command and care.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing read. Clear and easy flow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you for your service
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book! Highly recommended. I am generally picky about military books but this one surely did not disappoint
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LAD39 More than 1 year ago
This is a most incredible account, in the words of the men that were there, of a protracted battle against the Taliban for control of a vital region in Afghanistan. The incidents felt very real in the spare narrative style that brings the reader as close to the conflict as possible. Smells, sounds and feelings all come across with a clarity that only the participants of combat could offer. The story of the Special Forces troops and the relationship they shared with their Afghanistan Army allies is a case study in the best way Special Forces perform. Their bravery and sacrifice are only to be admired and cherished by our country.
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This book was pretty decently written. Although, I feel that it was a little self-serving at times, the historical accounts of the battles fought is pretty accurate. I've operated in correlating areas in which this book encompasses and I found it to be pretty accurate. Great read!
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