Captain Jason Amerine
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
News Release U.S ARMY SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND
Captain Jason Amerine
5th Special Forces Group (Airborne)
Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany -
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "We have shared the incommunicable
experience of war. We have felt -- we still feel -- the passion of
life to its top. In our youths our lives were touched by fire."
"In the words of Tennyson:
we are not now that strength which in old days
moved Earth and Heaven, that which we are, we are,
one equal temper of heroic hearts,
made weak by time and fate, but strong in will,
to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."
De Oppresso Liber.
Reprint from: Washington Post Foreign Service
. . . And His U.S. Partners
Wounded Army Captain Details Offensive Against Taliban
By Peter Finn
LANDSTUHL, Germany -- They went in at night in mid-October, 11 members of the U.S. Army 5th Special Forces Group, dropped into a valley deep inside Taliban territory in central Afghanistan. This austere, wild gash in the earth, the soldiers remarked to one another, looked like "the back side of the moon."
Out of the darkness stepped Hamid Karzai, today about to be interim leader of Afghanistan, then merely the head of a modest militia force that the United States hoped could galvanize the Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan against the Taliban authorities.
Over the next six weeks, the small and isolated American unit would fight alongside the ever-growing force of Karzai, calling in airstrikes and firing weapons to repel a fierce Taliban counterattack. It would negotiate with tribal leaders and advance with its Afghan allies to within 20 miles of Kandahar, the Taliban's last major stronghold.
"My focus was taking Kandahar, that they'd surrender to us," recounted Capt. Jason Amerine, the unit's commander. "Taking Kandahar, as I saw it, was probably going to be the end of the war."
Kandahar fell last week, but Amerine was not there to see it happen. His unit's mission was cut short on Wednesday when an errant U.S. bomb killed three Americans and five of their Afghan allies, and wounded about 40 other Americans and Afghans, Amerine among them.
The tall, lean West Point graduate is now recuperating from shrapnel wounds in a U.S. military hospital in Germany. With another wounded member of his team, Staff Sgt. Brad Fowers, 24, he provided in a two-hour interview the most in-depth account to date of what U.S. Special Forces have done out of sight on the ground since the U.S. bombing campaign began Oct. 7. He declined to reveal key operational details.
Amerine, who is scheduled to fly home in the next few days, said he wants the men who lost their lives that day to be honored as well as mourned. "I don't want them to be remembered for how they died, but what they did beforehand," he said.
The 5th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., had been in a Central Asian country for nearly six weeks on Sept. 11, with the mission of training local forces. Amerine declined to identify the country, but U.S. Special Forces are known to have conducted some training for Uzbekistan's armed forces.
Operating in Central Asia and surrounding countries was the group's specialty. Some members had studied local languages. Amerine, for instance, speaks Arabic and another member of his team speaks Persian.
On Sept. 11, someone from the local U.S. Embassy alerted the team to the events in the United States, and members watched the BBC broadcast as events unfolded at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The men quickly packed and returned to Kentucky, where an order soon arrived to head for Afghanistan.'Sort of a Wild Card'
"Our mission was to work with Hamid Karzai, who at the time was sort of a wild card," said Amerine. "He was our biggest hope for a good Pashtun leader that could really rally the people and bring legitimacy and change to the government."
First, however, the team deployed to a country bordering Afghanistan. There members studied intelligence, planned logistics and worked up a profile of their potential allies. "We need to have almost like an anthropological background on the people we're working with in order to work with them properly," said Amerine. "We need to know the customs to follow."
In military jargon, their field of combat behind enemy lines is called the "denied area," a place where soldiers are on their own but can call in help through the lifeline of communications equipment. "We could go in there naked with flip-flops and as long as we have good radios we could do our job," Amerine said.
In mid-October, the Americans flew into Afghanistan. They landed -- whether by parachute or helicopter, Amerine wouldn't say -- and Karzai greeted them in the dark in fluent English.
The Americans hastily loaded their equipment onto a mule train their allies had brought. The Afghans were clearly amused at the young Americans weighed down with firepower and communications equipment; Karzai's men, if they had weapons, each carried a single assault rifle and a few magazines of ammunition.
"We were kind of like newborn babes trying to get used to the environment, trying to get used to the people," said Amerine, who is from Honolulu. "We knew we were among friends, and they were all very warm and receptive."
They trekked through the night for several hours with the mules. The Americans were at first disconcerted by the Afghans, who blithely waved flashlights around as they moved across the difficult terrain. As morning appeared, they entered a village of clay homes with 60 to 80 families.
"I've got to admit I was almost giddy because it was . . . like out of a movie," said Amerine, who would not name the village but said it appeared battered by earlier wars. The U.S. soldiers were shown to a carpeted room inside a dwelling enclosed by a large outer wall. The Afghans invited them to sleep and again were amused when the Americans insisted on patrolling to ensure they were secure.
The next three weeks were devoted to planning. "We had to start from scratch to build up a force that was viable to fight the Taliban," Amerine said. "We began to help them organize, help them equip themselves . . . getting them arms, getting them ammunition." The troops also arranged food and blanket drops for the locals.
Amerine and Karzai also began to size up each other. "I had to get to know that he was more than just another politician and he had to get to know what my underlying agenda was," Amerine said. "I was real careful in the beginning not to be very pushy."
Days were spent sitting cross-legged among tribal leaders who argued fiercely about matters Amerine understood only through Karzai's translations. "I drank a lot of green tea with Hamid Karzai during late nights," Amerine said.
Karzai mostly listened before interjecting firmly but quietly to end the yelling matches. "He was in charge; he was real soft-spoken," Amerine recalled. "There was never any need for him to raise his voice. He has a very stately demeanor about him."
At first, Karzai had a very modest force, but the village quickly flooded with volunteers arriving day and night. The U.S. troops conducted some basic training, but the Afghans broke down along tribal lines and could not be organized into anything approaching platoons or companies.
"Initially, there was a great deal of concern about Americans being around," Amerine said. Karzai "was concerned that some of the locals might be unsettled about Americans being in their back yard." Over time, those fears subsided.
U.S. officials have said that at about this time, a U.S. aircraft extracted Karzai from Afghanistan as Taliban fighters closed in on him. But Amerine's account included nothing about such a rescue.
Karzai's plan, Amerine said, was to take the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tarin Kot, which sits 70 miles north of Kandahar in a valley with four major approaches. "He told me early on that Tarin Kot was the heart of the Taliban and he said if we could squeeze the heart of the Taliban and crush it, then the Taliban would be through," Amerine said. "I thought it would be a long time before we were ready to take Tarin Kot. . . . He was very confident that he could just walk into the town and it would be his."
And in the end, that is what happened. The locals, prompted by some intense diplomacy by Karzai via satellite telephone, revolted shortly before the Muslim observance of Ramadan began on Nov. 17. Karzai announced that it was time to move. "We piled on and had this crazy convoy and drove right into Tarin Kot," Amerine said. "Every kind of vehicle, soldiers armed to the teeth hanging on."
Arriving at night on the 17th, Karzai and the U.S. soldiers moved into the governor's mansion, where a tribal council was immediately convened.Taliban Mounts a Challenge
Soon there was word of a challenge. "We got a warning that the Taliban had launched a massive group of people north who had left Kandahar to retake Tarin Kot," said Amerine, who recalled becoming immediately edgy, particularly because the Afghans wanted to take time to eat before preparing for battle.
"They forced me to sit and eat a little bit," said Amerine, recalling a meal of beef stew, bread, almonds, yellow raisins and more green tea.
With a small group of Afghans, the 5th Special Forces Group established an observation post outside town as the Taliban convoy approached early in the morning of the 18th. They called in U.S. aircraft, which began attacking the vehicles.
"We didn't have a shortage of aircraft, we had a shortage of vehicles to be bombed by aircraft," Amerine said. "If anything, the pilots got disappointed there was nothing left. It was great listening in on the radio. . . . One of the [pilots] said: 'We're ready to play, I've got X number of bombs and I'm looking for some action.'
"They completely mauled that convoy."
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Massachusetts, who later died in the errant December bombing, directed the air attack. "It's an art," Amerine said. "And the guy I had was the best at it I've ever seen. You need to be able to draw a picture for the aircraft. . . . You're sitting there with a map. Your knowledge of the area, your ability to use a map, and your ability to use the right words, to vector the aircraft into a specific spot -- those are vital to get the aircraft to hit their targets."
About 10 or 12 Taliban fighters were captured while maneuvering on the eastern side of the town. They later revealed that their orders were not only to retake the town but to slaughter some residents, including women and children, to make an example of the rebels. "We saved that town," said Amerine, calling it his proudest moment.
In the aftermath of the assault, the commander of the Taliban forces, who surrendered a week later, reported that 300 of his men, mostly Arabs and Pakistanis, were killed in the counterattack.
"When we turned back that convoy, the high religious heads came over to Hamid's headquarters . . . and said if the Americans weren't here, we'd all be dead now," Amerine recalled. "Basically from that point on, our relationship was solid with the Pashtun tribes. Hamid told me word spread all the way down to around Kandahar.
"The impression Hamid had was that was the Taliban's last-ditch attack," he continued. "We broke the back of the Taliban that day."
Over the next week and a half, U.S. aircraft continued to pound Taliban convoys probing the defenses around Tarin Kot. More and more volunteers poured into the area, giving Karzai a force thousands strong. "Hamid was arranging for defections and surrenders all over the place," Amerine said. "As far as I'm concerned, the greatest tool of the war was his telephone."
The United States dropped more weapons to the insurgents, although by now Karzai also had a trove of Taliban arms.
On about Dec. 1, the force moved southwest over two days to the town of De Maymand, where it planned to regroup. The Taliban kept retreating in front of them without serious engagements.
With the road to Kandahar looking increasingly clear, Karzai's forces, with U.S. troops at the fore, moved farther than they had planned, reaching the outskirts of Seyyed Mohammad Kalay, a town about 30 miles from Kandahar. As the Americans watched, a dozen or so Afghans charged toward the town, cheering.
Just outside the town was a bridge over a dry riverbed, one of the last bottlenecks in front of the advance. There, the Taliban resisted fiercely.
Over two days and nights, the U.S. troops fought on the ground while U.S. planes dropped bombs south of the river. "We [started] taking fire, [rocket-propelled grenade] rounds coming down, machine-gun fire, actually a pretty heavy firefight," Amerine said. "We pushed forward with my guys, bringing in airstrikes as necessary. . . . We had guys who had to do some shooting at that point."
One of the U.S. soldiers was shot in the shoulder and had to be evacuated by helicopter.
In one of the more bizarre moments of his six weeks in Afghanistan, Amerine watched a yellow taxicab drive through a firefight near the targets that U.S. planes were striking. "People have to go places," Amerine deadpanned.
On the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 5, the area north of the bridge appeared largely secure, although U.S. planes were still bombing Taliban positions more than a mile away.
The 10 remaining soldiers from 5th Special Forces Group were feeling good. "That previous night, especially, we had done a pretty good job of hammering the Taliban," Amerine said. The soldiers had just received "care packages" and one soldier -- Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Tennessee -- had been passing out Rice Krispie treats he had received from his wife. "One of the nice things was that it was almost like Christmas for my guys," Amerine said.
On a hill that was crowded with people, Karzai was expecting a delegation from near Kandahar to discuss another surrender, and a new group of U.S. soldiers had arrived and was watching the bombing. In the near distance, across a dry riverbed and an orchard, was a ridge where Taliban positions were drawing U.S. airstrikes.
In Germany that same day, Afghan political negotiators were reaching a deal to create an interim government with Karzai as its leader.
Then "the bomb came in out of the blue and, you know, nailed us," said Amerine, who was blown into the air, taking shrapnel and suffering a perforated eardrum. Killed were Davis, Petithory and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of California, one of the new arrivals. "The Afghanis, they seem like they took the brunt of it, 'cause there were . . . massive casualties there," Amerine said.
Karzai, who was in a house at the foot of the hill, suffered a cut on his face. It was a rare trip to the front for him because Amerine, whose mission also included protection of this vital U.S. ally, did not want him near the action. "I wasn't going to give him the option of coming up front with us," Amerine said. "We wanted to keep him as safe as possible. . . . Without him, that whole uprising would have failed."
"I took a time out when I could to go over and have a good cry a couple of times," Amerine said. "I was so privileged to have commanded the guys . . . so even amidst the tears I had to realize that we had done a hell of a lot, and that was something that I was able to kind of hold on to. . . . It was a horrible way to end it, but the surrender of Kandahar was coming, my friend was prime minister of Afghanistan."
Reprint from ArmyLink News
Fallen green berets helped Afghans win key battles
By Staff Sgt. Marcia Triggs
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 12, 2001) - How they died is least important. The freedoms they fought for, and the milestones they reached while in Afghanistan is how their commander wants the three Special Forces soldiers killed by a stray U.S. bomb to be remembered.
"They cannot be remembered as victims of a tragic bombing, but as heroes fighting for a noble cause," said Capt. Jason Amerine, a 30-year-old detachment commander from 5th Special Forces Group during an over-the-phone interview from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Master Sgt. Jefferson Davis, 39,of Tennessee; Sergeant 1st Class Dan Petithory, 32, of Massachusetts; and Staff Sgt. Cody Prosser, 28, of California, died while fighting the enemy and ridding Afghanistan of the terrorists who dwelled there, Amerine said.
Those three Special Forces soldiers and 19 others that were wounded, including Amerine, were medically evacuated from the Kandahar area Dec. 4. A memorial for the fallen green berets was held Dec. 11 in Landstuhl, Germany, and another at Fort Campbell, Ky., Dec. 10.
Amerine and his Special Forces detachment infiltrated deep behind enemy lines, to work with militia leader Hamid Karzai and his forces as they advanced toward the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
"The day we got bombed, Kandahar was going to surrender to our forces," Amerine said.
Only weeks after Sept. 11, Karzai -- who is now the leader of Afghanistan's interim government -- greeted Amerine and his 11-man detachment. An important part of the Afghan culture is to treat their visitors well, Amerine said.
"We were treated very warmly and what we had to do from there was prove ourselves to them, and we did that by sharing the hardships with them," Amerine said.
After the green berets arrived on the ground, the following weeks were spent advising Karzai and assisting the Afghan opposition forces on how to help themselves.
"I spent half my time during the day just talking to Hamid Karzai. He spoke fluent English, and my goal was to understand his vision to assist me in assisting him," Amerine said.
Amerine, an eight-year Army officer, established a good working relationship with Karzai.
"I would consider him a friend at this point, Amerine said. "I developed a great deal of respect for him. He was wearing three hats - he was a military leader, a political leader, and an international diplomat. Everyday it would be us sitting and working though one issue or another."
The day of the bombing and the events that led up to the tragic event have been described in detail by Amerine. However, as days go by Amerine said that he doesn't like to talk about the fratricide, but rather praise the pilots, nurses and his soldiers for their help in keeping the wounded alive.
"Everyone who could walk or crawl was helping their buddy after the bomb hit," Amerine said. "Then the brave pilots flew across Afghanistan in broad daylight to get us out of there. The devotion shown by everyone will not be forgotten by my men or me."
People have asked Amerine if is he angry, or who does he blame. But Amerine answers theses questions pointing out that close air support was one of the most important missions of the war for his team.
"You cannot devalue such an asset," Amerine said.
Calling in for close air support saved the lives of the 5th Special Forces Group during a mission that Amerine said was his unit's greatest accomplishment in Afghanistan.
"Tarin Kowt was the heart of the Taliban and Hamid Karzi said that if we could take the town it would be the downfall of the Taliban," Amerine said. "The townspeople of Tirin Kowt had deposed their Taliban administration and declared themselves free from the tyranny of that regime."
The Taliban launched 500 men to retake that town, but the Army's green berets and Karzai's rag-tag force of freedom fighters arrived six hours earlier, Amerine said. As the Taliban's convoy approached, close air-support strikes destroyed the vehicles, he added.
"We defended the town in a tense battle that lasted several hours," Amerine said. "Hamid Karzi later learned that the Taliban planned to sack the town and slaughter the innocent families that lived there as a form of retribution."
The Special Forces troops proved their worth in battle and developed a bond with the Afghan freedom fighters.
"In order to fight alongside anyone you have to develop a trust," Amerine said. "Tarin Kowt enabled us to develop a very strong working relationship, and by the time the tragic bombing occurred, we were brothers out there."
The Special Forces' mission has changed from fighting the war to healing.
The 12-man detachment lost Davis, who Amerine said was the unit's father. Davis was the senior noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the detachment. He made sure that everyone was focused on the mission, and moving in the right direction, Amerine said. Davis was the glue that held the unit together, he added.
Petithory was the senior communications sergeant. He had the most important job in the unit, Amerine said, because he was the detachment's lifeline to the world.
Prosser was a military intelligence sergeant and his job was to understand how to template the enemy, Amerine said. Prosser will always be remembered as a friend, Amerine added.
While the war continues, the 5th Special Forces soldiers will mourn their dead, take care of the fallen victims' families and help each other to recover, Amerine said.
"Now my team must heal," Amerine said. "And after we're through rebuilding, we'll hopefully get another mission and get back into the war."
Green Beret from O'ahu among wounded troops in Afghanistan
Posted on: Thursday, December 6, 2001 © COPYRIGHT 2001
Reprint From The Honolulu Advertiser By William Cole Advertiser Military Writer
A 30-year-old Army Green Beret from Hawai'i was wounded in Afghanistan yesterday when a 2,000-pound bomb dropped by an American B-52 plane exploded about 100 yards away, killing three soldiers and injuring 20.
Ron and Carol Amerine, who live in the Diamond Head area, received the news from a chaplain at 7:30 a.m. yesterday.
"His father almost had a heart attack," Carol Amerine said. "I'm glad he's OK."
She said her son was being treated at a hospital, possibly in Afghanistan, and will head back to his base at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Pentagon officials theorize there was a system malfunction or the wrong coordinates were sent or entered during the air strike, but Carol Amerine said: "The first thing (Jason) said was, 'It's not our (unit's) fault' — and that was very important to him because he's a highly trained professional."
Amerine is part of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Special Forces Group. Two Special Forces teams were operating in the area north of Kandahar.
The Amerines moved to Hawai'i from San Gabriel, Calif., when their son was 3. Carol Amerine said he dreamed of becoming a Green Beret since his freshman year at Kalani High School, when he joined the Junior ROTC program. He graduated from West Point in 1993, majoring in Middle East studies, went through Ranger school, and has been a Green Beret for a "couple of years," his mother said.
There was "no question" that he would be headed for Afghanistan — in part because he speaks Arabic and there are Arab fighters there, she said.
"He is a tough kid — and a very brave one," his mother said. "It will be hard on him to find out so many people were so badly injured."