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.
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.
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LIONS OF KANDAHAR is your first book, and you are the first Special Forces soldier to write a book while on active duty. Why did you decide that it was time to pick up the pen, and how has the military community reacted to it so far?
The thought of writing a book actually crossed my mind during the battle. I remember thinking, “No one will ever believe this.”
Later, when I had returned to the U.S. and was in and out of the hospital, I realized the true magnitude of what had happened and the sacrifices of the men there. I decided that the story had to be told. I do a lot of professional writing in the Army, but it was fun to step out of the constraints of military reports and try and tell this story. My goal was to help readers understand combat and the brotherhood of those who fight. And I wanted the American public to see the heroism of my teammates who amaze me every day.
I have been pleasantly surprised at the positive feedback from the military community. Most of us talk about writing a book, but few will sit down and actually to put pen to paper. Four years ago, when we started this project, my co-author Kevin Maurer and I approached the United States Army Special Operations Command simply to ask permission to write the book. What evolved was a collaborative partnership among the special operations community to help tells this incredible story. I think I earned the trust of my command, the community and the Army in general by asking permission and keeping them involved every step of the way. I made it clear there were no hidden agendas, issues that sometimes appear in books after people retire. This has nothing to do with agendas; it is about the men and the mission.
LIONS OF KANDAHAR chronicles the heroic actions of the men you led in the battle of Sperwan Ghar, including Sergeant Greg Stube, who volunteered to go with you and was badly injured. What will you remember most from this battle? And once it was over, were you able to stay in contact with the men who fought with you?
What will remember most? That is a really big question. There are things you cannot understand unless you have walked that ground. When I close my eyes I can see Jude Voss desperately trying to rescue Greg next to a vehicle burning out of control. I remember the desperation in Greg’s eyes as he thought he might die. I can see the A-10 pilot flying just above tree top level letting us know he was watching over us. These are images I will live with for the rest of my life.
I have been very fortunate to stay in touch with the heroes I served with. We have a bond from serving not only at Sperwan Ghar, but on close-knit Special Forces teams. These men are as close to me as my own family. We fight for the guys to our left and right, and we understand that while I protected them during the battle, they also protected me.
How does LIONS OF KANDAHAR contribute to the literature of the war in Afghanistan and the war on terror? What do you want readers to take away from this book?
LIONS OF KANDAHAR is not a battle book. While the battle is the centerpiece of the story, what I want readers to take away from it is what the battle means now and the unique light it sheds on our current situation in Afghanistan. Movies tend to focus on the sexy quick strike. The real beast of burden is the day-to-day struggle to win the will of the people and defeat the insurgency.
This summer, the key battles in southern Afghanistan will be fought on the same battlefield as the battle of Sperwan Ghar. And there, in some way, the fate of the war will be decided. That will be where the Taliban will make its final stand.
I want readers to know that the events depicted in LIONS OF KANDAHAR are a prime example of what America can do when it sets its jaw and refuses to bow its back. This book is not about failure, or even sheer escape. It’s about victory in absolute defiance of the odds in the face of an overwhelming enemy.
On May 30, 2013, Discovery Channel hosted this film based on the account of the above book. View HERE