February 15, 2010
Posted: 08:00 AM ET
As 31,000 more American troops last month began to trickle into Afghanistan to stabilize the country so it can stand on its own two feet, one question remains: How did Hamid Karzai come to power as the president? Does anybody remember? Has the true story ever been told?
These were some of the questions I had when I received permission to sit in on an Arabic class at the military academy at West Point in late 2005. The cadets were being taught by Major Jason Amerine, whom I learned had been the team leader of Operational Detachment Alpha 574: the lone eleven-man A-team of Green Berets from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, that had met with Karzai — then a virtually unknown Pashtun statesman and aspiring guerrilla leader — in November 2001.
By December 5, 2001, just three weeks after infiltrating Uruzgan Province in southern Afghanistan on Blackhawk helicopters, Karzai had been named the interim leader of Afghanistan and every single member of ODA 574 had been wounded or killed. Three weeks!
What happened during those 21 days? In order for me to receive an answer to that question, Major Amerine suggested that I meet with the family members of the men on his team who did not return. If I received their blessings, he would tell me “everything, and I bet the rest of the guys will, too … if the families are behind this.”
This took me to a small East Coast town, where I spent a weekend sleeping in the bed of one of the men who had been killed in action. I walked the trails around the home where he’d played Army as a boy, visited his grave, and learned all about this American soldier through stories that spanned his birth to the moment his family was informed of his death.
At the end of the weekend, the father admonished me to, “Tell the story like it happened. The good and the bad. That is how you can honor my son. That is how you can set the history books straight about his mission with Karzai.” After that weekend, what had been an idea became a calling. My research indicated that nobody really knew how Karzai had become president or the facts behind how this entire team of Green Berets was wiped out in the process.
The war, like the news, was on to the next story and the next missions. There has been precious little time to pause and reflect, to dig deep to the roots of even these most critical missions, carried out dutifully by our armed forces. My book, The Only Thing Worth Dying For is one of the forgotten chapters from the earliest weeks of the war in Afghanistan, but it stands alone as the one mission — the most geo-politically significant victory — that still resonates the loudest in the region and around the world today.
It doesn’t matter your stance on the war or Karzai. This is how it happened, as told to me by the men on the ground who were there.
Filed under: Afghanistan
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