Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

"They are the best that America has to offer." -- Jason Amerine, Special Forces captain and Roosevelt High School graduate, speaking about his fellow soldiers who died in Afghanistan last week.

Green Beret tells
of heroic missions

The soldier recalls his team's
courage while in Afghanistan

By David McHugh
Associated Press

LANDSTUHL, Germany >> Capt. Jason Amerine's mission was a dangerous and delicate one -- travel deep into enemy territory with his elite team, link up with Afghan opposition fighters, win their trust and help them defeat the Taliban.

This his band of Green Berets accomplished, punishing the enemy with thunderous airstrikes and incinerating a Taliban force intent on massacring residents of an Afghan town who had defied their rule.

Along the way, Amerine had to drink a lot of green tea -- with Hamid Karzai, the guerrilla commander who has become the country's interim leader, a man he describes as a friend.

"I actually developed a pretty good taste for the stuff," Amerine said in an interview yesterday at the military hospital where he is recovering from a shrapnel wound. "We needed to count on the soldiers we were fighting with."

Amerine's account sheds light on the mix of tasks -- from diplomacy to combat -- carried out by U.S. Army special operations forces.

The 30-year-old West Point graduate from Honolulu told of the bond built with the Afghan fighters, their ferocious and chaotic fight to save the town of Tarin Kot, and his grief for comrades killed and injured by a stray U.S. bomb that ended their work, suddenly and violently, last week.

The deaths -- of Master Sgt. Jefferson Davis and Sgt. 1st Class Dan Petithory, two members of his team, and Staff Sgt. Cody Prosser, a member of another U.S. team -- have turned his world "to gray," Amerine said. He decided to talk to reporters -- an unusual move by secretive special forces personnel -- because he wanted to put the record straight.

"I do not want my men remembered as a detachment that was taken out by an errant bomb," he said. "They cannot be remembered that way. They are the best that America has to offer."

Their finest hour in Afghanistan came on Nov. 16, about 60 miles north of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar -- a battle that cemented the bond between the Americans and the Afghans.

"We had to prove ourselves to them," Amerine said at the U.S military hospital in Landstuhl. "You need to develop trust, you need to develop the bonds of brotherhood that soldiers have known since the beginning of time."

The moment of truth came when the inhabitants of Tarin Kot, a provincial capital, ousted the local Taliban administration and declared themselves for the opposition. Soon, Karzai's sources alerted him that about 500 Taliban fighters from Kandahar were bearing down on the town intent on revenge.

Amerine and his 10 men rounded up what Afghan fighters were close by and raced to the ridge overlooking the town just before dawn, six hours ahead of the Taliban, and set up their defenses. The Taliban fighters -- mostly Arabs and other non-Afghans, he said -- rolled into the valley in a motley column of trucks equipped with antiaircraft guns and passenger vehicles.

They called in an airstrike, but the anti-Taliban fighters still decided to retreat, taking the protesting Americans back with them in their vehicles. Amerine said he and his crew then simply helped themselves to four vehicles, and "told them to catch up with us as soon as they got organized.

As U.S. planes pounded the approaching Taliban, the Afghan opposition fighters rallied and repulsed a Taliban attack on their flank.

"They kept coming into the valley, and we kept bombing them," Amerine said. Soon the valley was littered with burning vehicles. Eventually, the Taliban had had enough and retreated.

Then came Dec. 5. As they were perched atop a hill directing airstrikes against a Taliban position about two miles away, a misdirected U.S. bomb landed next to their position. Three U.S. troops were killed and 20 injured. Amerine suffered a shrapnel wound to the thigh. One eardrum was punctured and another completely blown out, damage that will take surgery to repair.

He walks without a limp, however, and can hear normal conversation. He directs attention away from his own injuries to those who suffered worse, including several with serious blast wounds.

"Our mission now is to heal."

They will talk to each other, comfort the families of those killed, work through the grieving process together.

"We'll take care of each other and rebuild the team," he said. "And when that rebuilding is over, then I hope we'll get another mission."

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