U.S. Army / Bronze Star with Valor
Hawaii Green Beret and his Special Forces team scored a
key victory against the Taliban
The Taliban assault force rolled out of a mountain pass on Nov. 16, 2001, about 1,000 fighters headed toward a strategic town in south-central Afghanistan that had booted out local Taliban leaders.
From a ridge outside Tarin Kowt, capital of Oruzgan province, a nine-man U.S. Special Forces team, accompanied by a few dozen guerrillas and commanded by Capt. Jason Amerine, directed Navy F-18 air strikes against the approaching enemy convoy.
The day would be a roller coaster ride, one that would test Amerine’s skills and emotions.
Suddenly, with American bombs blasting the enemy as it advanced, the guerrillas decided they’d had enough. They packed into their pickup trucks, threatening to leave the Americans stranded atop the ridge.
“All of us were yelling, trying to get them to stop, but we couldn’t,” Amerine recalled. With no choice but to jump aboard the pickups, “It was just an awful ride for 35 minutes as we retreated all the way back into town.”
Two months after 9/11, in the early days of the war on terror, Amerine’s tiny band of Green Berets had been dropped into Afghanistan to organize and train friendly locals. A guerrilla leader, Hamid Karzai, was trying to mobilize local fighters to oust Taliban radicals from the entire region around Tarin Kowt.
When they got back to town, Amerine told Karzai that the Americans needed to get back to the battle or the town would fall.
“So, we basically forced all the drivers out of their trucks, took the trucks, and we drove back out of town,” Amerine said.
The Special Forces team returned to the ridge and called in more air strikes, confident they could still stop the Taliban advance.
But when the F-18s had to go back to reload, it was just Amerine and his nine men in pickup trucks against hundreds of Taliban, who couldn’t be stopped.
“At one point, some of the lead elements of the enemy convoy got to the edge of town, and we heard small-arms fire,” Amerine said. “That to me was it. The enemy made it to town. We’re going to have to start thinking about going and getting Karzai and getting out of there.”
Then they realized the arms fire was coming not from the Taliban but from the Tarin Kowt residents.
“The people were engaging the (Taliban) convoy,” Amerine said. “We still had hundreds of enemy coming for us, but the town was there fighting with us.”
The day ended with an early victory in the war in Afghanistan. For Amerine, the battle led to a Bronze Star with Valor, making him one of the first decorated heroes of the war.
For Karzai, it led to the Afghan presidency. The battle at Tarin Kowt established his credibility at home and abroad and turned the tide against the Taliban across the Pashtun tribal belt where the movement was born.
Just six weeks after Tarin Kowt, the Taliban surrendered Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city. But Amerine and his team, with two men added, missed the surrender, falling victim just hours before to the deadliest friendly fire incident of the war.
Two men from Amerine’s A-team, one other American and more than 30 Afghan guerrillas died when a soldier who had joined the operation with a headquarters group mistakenly called down a 2,000-pound bomb onto his own coordinates.
Amerine views the incident just north of Kandahar as part of the danger of war and calls the men killed in his unit — Master Sgt. Jefferson Davis of Clarksville, Tenn., and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory of Cheshire, Mass. — the real heroes of the campaign.
In all, Amerine’s unit received 11 Purple Hearts, eight Bronze Stars and two posthumous Silver Stars.
Now 38, Amerine is the very image of a decorated soldier. If there’s any doubt, his crouching, gun-wielding, square-jawed likeness has been molded in plastic as an Army action figure, and his electronic image is part of the Army’s realistic military action game, America’s Army.
Amerine is a consultant for the multiplayer computer game, which is a free download now in its third version at www.americasarmy.com.
David Briscoe is a veteran journalist living in Honolulu after 39 years covering international and domestic affairs for The Associated Press in Washington, Asia and Hawaii.
U.S. Army / Bronze Star with Valor
Born May 6, 1971, in San Gabriel, Calif. Family moved to Honolulu when he was 3.
Enlisted in the Army Reserve in June 1988 in the 442nd Infantry. Enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1989, graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Arabic. Has masterís degree from Texas A&M University and has taught at West Point.
Was deployed to Afghanistan with Operational Detachment Alpha-Team 574 within the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from October to December 2001. A captain while serving in Afghanistan, he is now a major.
WHAT HE DID
The Green Beret led a team of nine that coordinated air strikes to help defend a strategic town against a 1,000-strong convoy of Taliban fighters in the earliest days of the war in Afghanistan.
WHERE HE IS NOW
Works as a military strategist at U.S. Army Pacific Command in Hawaii.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
"Growing up I was always interested in military service, so I don't really remember a time when I wasn't interested in joining the military."
Afghanistan / Tarin Kowt