Review by Bob Seals.
Since the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the United States Army has been engaged continuously in combat operations across the globe. Army Special Forces, employed in the Foreign Internal Defense mode, have often been the nation’s weapon of choice against terror, working “by, with and through,” a partner nation’s security forces.
Perhaps due to the nature of Special Forces operations, and the “quiet professionals” themselves, realistic and first person accounts of Army SF operations during the past ten years have not been plentiful, or particularly well written. The recently published Lions of Kandahar, by U.S. Army Special Forces officer Rusty Bradley and journalist Kevin Maurer, has now broken this paradigm. The two authors have crafted a superb work which gives the reader a thorough understanding of SF operations masterfully executed in Afghanistan by the basic building block of the branch, the Special Forces Operational Detachment-Alpha (SFODA). Commonly known as the “A Team,” these small, highly trained 12-man units are often little understood, or appreciated. This book should help to correct any misunderstanding.
Lions of Kandahar begins with a dramatic rendition of a “Troops in Contact,” engagement and the subsequent sickening realization that the team was surrounded by hundreds of insurgents, and low on ammunition. After this, the authors flash back and provide a contextual background and understanding of the soldiers and detachment pre-mission training for the readers, explaining how all came to find themselves in such desperate straits one hot, dusty day in the south of Afghanistan.
By the time Captain Rusty Bradley and the men of SFODA 331 of 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) arrived at Kandahar Airfield in August of 2006, the security situation in Southern Afghanistan had reached a critical period for US and NATO forces. A growing sense of unease permeated Kandahar as indications abounded of a major enemy resurgence and impending offensive in their traditional southern stronghold. No stranger to OEF, Bradley was beginning his third consecutive tour of combat duty in the nation.
Bradley’s ODA, along with two other detachments, were chosen to support the ambitious Canadian-led NATO offensive Operation Medusa, intended to clear insurgent dominated provinces in the south. Conducting an epic “Lawrence of Arabia” like 300 kilometer vehicular movement across the forbidding Red Desert, the small SF force was to establish blocking positions in support of friendly columns driving from the north. As the offensive stalled, all three detachments became decisively engaged in one of the most intense and sustained OEF combat operations to date. It was a literal fight for life against a well armed and determined enemy.
Lions of Kandahar is ultimately an insider’s account of the epic fight in and around the Panjwayi Sperwan Ghar hill mass over a six day period from 05 to 10 September 2006. Nicknamed by Army SF participants “the greatest battle no one ever heard of,” the fighting was not against hit and run guerrillas but intense ground combat against an opponent who vigorously defended ground and attacked. Over a period of six days Bradley and the SF “long beards” assaulted and seized a fortified position, and repelled two counterattacks and two direct assaults, while killing or wounding an estimated 800 plus insurgents to include 8 confirmed Taliban commanders. Their actions most likely prevented the collapse of the NATO offensive that fall.
This book is a tightly written, fast paced first person account of the war in Afghanistan as fought by one remarkable Army Special Forces A-Team. Both authors, with extensive combat and embed experience, have crafted a ripping good read that is entertaining and authentic. The 280 page work is well laid out and user friendly for readers unfamiliar with Special Forces, and includes a glossary, 3 maps and 23 black and white photos which are extremely helpful in helping one understand the deadly close in combat of Spewan Ghar. One minor fault is that the book does not have either notes or an appendix, which military historians of the future will lament. In the end, Bradley and Maurer accomplish what they have set out to do; that is, ensure the men who fought, bled and won at the Battle of Sperwan Ghar are never forgotten.
Copyright © 2012 Bob Seals.
Written by Bob Seals. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Bob Seals at:
About the author:
Bob Seals is a retired Army Special Forces officer with service in the 1st and 3rd Special Forces Group, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, SF Command, Security Assistance Training Management Organization, and Special Operations Command-Korea. He is working as an Operations Analyst for General Dynamics Information Technology at the Special Operations Mission Training Center, Fort Bragg, NC.