American officer tells of tears for men killed by 'friendly fire'

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The Independent Online

The officer in charge of an 11-man American special forces team has given a remarkably detailed account of what proved to be a vital mission. Captain Jason Amerine also revealed how three of his men were killed by 'friendly fire' when a US airstrike they had called in went off course.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Capt Amerine, who is recovering from shrapnel wounds in a military hospital in Germany, said: "I don't want them to be remembered for how they died but for what they did beforehand."

The special forces team was training soldiers in a central Asian country, possibly Uzbekistan, when the 11 September attacks happened. They wat-ched the news reports on the BBC. After returning to their base at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the soldiers were dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan at night. The English speaker who greeted them in the darkness was the head of a modest militia – today Hamid Karzai leads the country's new government.

Over the next six weeks the US Army 5th Special Forces group would work with Mr Karzai, helping to organise anti-Taliban resistance and preparing to overthrow the regime.

"He was a sort of wild card," said Capt 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."

There were training sessions for the fighters as more volunteers came to join and endless discussions with tribal elders about strategy and the way forward. Capt Amerine, a West Point graduate, said he drank endless cups of green tea.

"We had to start from scratch to build up a force that was viable to fight the Taliban," he said. "We began to help them organise, help them equip themselves... getting them arms, getting them ammunition."

Of Mr Karzai, he said: "I had to get to know he was more than just another politician and he had to get to know what my underlying agenda was. I was real careful in the beginning not to be very pushy."

Capt Amerine tells how he and his men helped the Pashtun forces take back the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tarin Kot, which was under Taliban control. When the Taliban organised a counter-attack, the special forces men called in airstrikes. But the superior firepower did not always go according to plan.

As Mr Karzai's forces grew and started to approach the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, they had to take the town of Seyyed Mohammad Kalay, where the regime's fighters were dug in.

Once again the US soldiers called in airstrikes. Most were accurate, but not all of them.

"The bomb came in out of the blue and, you know, nailed us," said Capt Amerine. "The Afghans, seemed to take the brunt of it, because there were massive casualties there."

Three of Mr Amerine's men also died – Sgt Brian Cody, Sgt Jefferson Davis and Sgt Daniel Petithory. Mr Karzai was cut on the face.

"I took a time out when I could go over and have a good cry a couple of times," said Capt Amerine. "Even amidst the tears I had to realise that we had done a hell of a lot and that was something that I was able to hold on to.

"It was a horrible way to end it but the surrender of Kandahar was coming [and] my friend was prime minister of Afghanistan."