Special Forces ODA 3336 deep in the Hindu Kush, gallantry and courage
It is not until you dig into a furious battle in Afghanistan that you come to want to know more and more, not only about the men in the fight, the fight itself, and the lineage of the units to which they belong, but also the history of the area, the nature of the enemy target, and the environment of the target area. This is because we know so little about Afghanistan and the war to which we have sent our men and women. On April 6, 2008, there was a fierce battle fought in the Shok Valley deep in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Nuristan Province. One Air Force combat controller would receive the Air Force Cross, and ten Army special forces would receive the Silver Star, all for unimaginable valor in the face of incredible odds. This six section report goes into each of the areas about which I knew too little, and attempts to weave inputs from a variety of sources to describe what these men faced and did. After you have finished this report, you'll underscore something said by Lt. General John F. Mulholland at the Army's award ceremony: "Imagine the Taliban commander thinking, 'What the hell do I have to do to defeat these guys?'" The short answer is, "You can't."
By Ed Marek, editor
March 16, 2009
Members of ODA 3336 of the 3rd SFG(A) recon the remote Shok Valley of Afghanistan where they fought an almost seven-hour battle with terrorists in a remote mountainside village. Photo credit: Sgt. David G. Gunn, USA. Presented by US Army.
On December 12, 2008, Lt. General John F. Mulholland, commander, US Army Special Operations Command, pinned Silver Stars on the chest of ten soldiers involved in an April 6, 2008 raid in the area of the Shok Valley, Afghanistan, deep in the Hindu Kush Mountains.
General Mulholland on this day awarded another nine Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars with the "V"device for valor, and four Purple Hearts at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina for their valorous actions other combat events in Afghanistan. Earlier that week, Colonel Gus Benton, the commander, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), 3rd SFG(A), awarded 43 Bronze Stars with "V" and 39 Army Commendation Medals with "V" for valor in their mission execution. As is widely known, Ft. Bragg is an American home of heroes.
General Mulholland said this:
"Where do we get such men? There is no finer fighting man on the face of the earth than the American Soldier. And there is no finer American Soldier than our Green Berets."
On March 10, 2009, SSgt. Zachary Rhyner, USAF, received the Air Force Cross from Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF), in the presence of General Norton Schwarz, Chief of Staff, USAF (CSAF), at Pope AFB, North Carolina, adjacent to Ft. Bragg, for his role in employing air power to support the ODA 3336 special forces and their Afghan allies on April 6, 2008.
I want to address the battle of April 6, 2008 in the Shok Valley, Mandol District, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. This battle was fought by ODA 3336 and its Afghan Ally, the 1st Company, 201st Kandak Commandos. ODA 3336 fought with four US Air Force combat air controllers by their side.
ODA 3336 is an Army Special Forces (SF) unit, and translates to Detachment 6, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (SFG), US Army (USA). The USAF combat controllers came from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, USAF Special Operations Command. The 1st Company, 201st Kandak Commandos came from the Afghan National Army's (ANA) 201st Corps responsible for Kabul and east central Afghanistan. I am going to talk to each of these units in another section of this report.
These soldiers and airmen were assigned a most dangerous mission in very difficult and unknown terrain. They are courageous and gallant war fighters who reacted with incredible acts of valor. The Americans in this fight were all men from our neighborhoods, from our schools, at one point in their lives, the kids next door.
Many of the kids next door join our military and serve and sacrifice in a wide variety of ways. Many have conducted themselves with the same distinction as the men who fought in the Shok Valley in April 2008. Not all are singled out for such recognition, and even those who are will tell you that they were just doing their jobs. While those who receive the kinds of awards received by these men are proud of their achievements the men with whom they fought, they wear their medals as a means to recognize all who fought for their country. This is especially true for those who have received the Medal of Honor. Most will tell you that they wear the Medal to represent all who have served and sacrificed for their country.
I would like to suggest you read the story of these men in that context.
There are many stories surrounding their battle in the Shok Valley. I am going to leave the story of the actual battle until last. Given the level of their service, I felt compelled to learn more about Afghanistan, and our Army and Air Force special forces and the Afghan commandos they trained for similar work. Learning a little more about these things helps to understand better what all our forces are up against over there and better understand ODA 3336's experience on April 6 in the Shok Valley of the Hindu Kush.
So the story comes to you in sections, each identified in the sidebar as subordinate to this overall story.
A historical perspective, Afghanistan
The environment of the target area, Nuristan and the Hindu Kush
The target, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbudden (HIG)
ODA 3336 and the 201st Kandak
The Battle of the Shok Valley, April 6, 2008