By Matt Kelley
Associated Press Writer
Thursday, March 28, 2002; 2:44 AM
WASHINGTON –– The Green Berets who helped take Tarin Kot knew victory over the Taliban had come too easily – not one shot fired – and steeled themselves for a counterattack.
Their fight to hang on to the dusty Afghan town brought the kind of odds that can make heroes, or martyrs, of men: About 500 Taliban militiamen in pickup trucks armed with Kalashnikov automatic rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades facing 11 determined Americans.
Within hours, hundreds of Taliban fighters lay dead amid the smoldering wreckage of their vehicles. Tarin Kot, capital of Afghanistan's remote Uruzgan province, was safely under the control of anti-Taliban commander Hamid Karzai.
The fight on the night of Nov. 16 was key to the eventual surrender of Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold about 60 miles to the south. It added to the stature of Karzai, a once-exiled ethnic Pashtun leader who now heads Afghanistan's interim government.
The battle of Tarin Kot also made heroes of those Green Berets, a unit code-named Texas 12. Two of them, both later killed by an errant U.S. bomb, became the first American soldiers in the Afghan war to earn the Silver Star, the U.S. military's third-highest award for valor.
Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis – J.D. – was a quiet Tennessean, a family man with two children who loved fishing and riding motorcycles. Trained as a medic, the 39-year-old Davis was Texas 12's operations sergeant, directing its combat operations.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory was the cutup of the bunch, a former altar boy from rural Massachusetts who would wear Elvis-style glasses on parachute jumps. Petithory, 32, was Texas 12's communications sergeant, a whiz at the complicated art of using a hand-held radio to guide bomber pilots to enemy targets.
Texas 12 arrived in southern Afghanistan in early November, linking up with the bearded, professorial Karzai. Within days, Texas 12 and Karzai's small force of anti-Taliban fighters had taken over Tarin Kot by persuading locals to oust local Taliban officials.
Everyone knew the Taliban wouldn't give up that easily. A large force of Taliban "light mechanized infantry" – fighters piled into extended-cab pickups and SUVs – soon was on its way to retake Tarin Kot.
"The fledgling (anti-Taliban) forces were still not confident in their ability to defeat the hard-core Taliban, and many left their positions for the shelter of Hamid Karzai's headquarters," said the recommendation for Davis' Silver Star. "MSG Davis would not see his men do the same."
Outnumbered 50-to-one, Davis' men fanned out along ridges overlooking the narrow valley that the Taliban convoy would use to approach Tarin Kot and soon saw the convoy carrying the 500 heavily armed Taliban.
"We had about 80 vehicles headed our way," said Capt. Jason Amerine, Texas 12's commander. "When you see SUVs instead of tanks, you kind of do a double-take. But then you see they're loaded up with rocket-propelled grenades."
Petithory used a sophisticated laser range finder, a device that looks like a large pair of binoculars that uses a laser to calculate the distance to a target. The range finder plugged into a hand-held Global Positioning System device, about the size of two videotapes stacked together, that calculated precise target coordinates.
Then he radioed the coordinates to bomber pilots waiting to strike.
"Petithory was consistently under direct fire of both RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and machine gun while calling in missions on the Taliban," his Silver Star nomination said.
Satellite-guided, 2,000-pound bombs destroyed at least 35 of the Taliban vehicles and killed about 300 of the radical Islamic militia's fighters.
Meanwhile, Davis had other members of Texas 12 commandeer vehicles from local Afghans and encircle the town.
During the next several days, the remaining Taliban forces tried several more attacks on Tarin Kot. Every one failed. Davis was training Karzai's men during these battles, which helped the anti-Taliban forces gain the confidence they would need to push south toward Kandahar.
"There was no organized fighting capability of the (anti-Taliban) forces except where Davis and his men led by example and provided timely direction," Davis' award nomination said.
On December 3, Texas 12 and Karzai's fighters attacked a small town north of Kandahar, Sayd Alma Kalay. Again, the Green Berets faced a much larger Taliban force. Again, Petithory called in crucial airstrikes, and Davis directed the American and Afghan forces to victory over the Taliban.
Two days later, Texas 12 had hooked up with another Green Beret unit and was fighting Taliban militiamen close to Kandahar. A B-52 dropped a 2,000-pound bomb that was locked onto the Americans' location, not the Taliban target.
Davis, Petithory and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser were killed. Amerine and 19 other American soldiers were injured. Karzai suffered a cut on his face.
Recovering at a U.S. military hospital in Germany, Amerine told reporters about Texas 12's exploits.
"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."
The Army's 5th Special Forces Group established a memorial fund to assist the families of Davis, Petithory and Prosser. Donations can be sent to: Chapter 38, Special Forces Association, Attn: Survivor Fund, P.O. Box 223, Fort Campbell, Ky. 42223-0223.
© 2002 The Associated Press Article Reprinted from AP Wire