Five years after the battle of Tarin Kowt

Almost five years to the day, a battle took place in the town of Tarin Kowt in Southern Afghanistan. In less than three weeks, the successful outcome of the battle in the capital of Uruzgan province led to the fall of the Taliban regime in the entire region right up to Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar. Just eleven US ‘Green Berets’ with air support; a few dozen Afghan guerrilla fighters and an assorted group of local inhabitants from the town fought off a massive onslaught of some 1000 Taliban fighters.

Today, Tarin Kowt is home to ‘Kamp Holland’, the main base of the Dutch NATO-led ISAF stabilisation force in the province of Uruzgan. It also houses Australian and American ISAF troops but few of the soldiers appear to be aware of the truly historic events of five years ago, when a certain Hamid Karzai had his temporary headquarters just off the main road in town.

In a back street right behind him was the headquarters of ‘ODA 574’, an ‘Operational Detachment Alpha-Team’ of the US Special Forces, more commonly known as Green Berets. The eleven-men team was led by (then) Captain Jason Amerine. This week, Jason Amerine, now a Major, told Radio Netherlands Worldwide about the events.

ODA 574 infiltrated in Eastern Uruzgan as one of the many small and larger units that entered Afghanistan in the aftermath of the events of 9/11. It’s main task was to get in touch with Hamid Karzai who himself had secretly entered the country from his Pakistani exile town of Quetta.

Captain Amerine basically was to assess Mr Karzai, on whom the Americans had almost no information, aside from the fact that he had been working for years from Quetta to attempt to achieve a diplomatic solution to Afghanistan’s ongoing internal struggles. He was not regarded as the future president of Afghanistan, which in the end he did become. But first, the Taliban had to be defeated. Major Amerine explains:

“Our mission was to link up with Hamid Karzai and to advise and assist him as we developed a guerrilla army with the purpose of seizing Tarin Kowt from the Taliban; taking control of Uruzgan and supporting Hamid Karzai in overthrowing the Taliban in the Pashtun tribal belt.”

But why Tarin Kowt, a desolate small town in a desolate region? Well, for one thing, many of the Taliban leaders had their roots in the town or places nearby. Second, Hamid Karzai was a respected tribal leader or Khan from one of Uruzgan’s Pashtun tribes – and he knew he had supporters in the town. Major Amerine explains:
“In Karzai’s words, Tarin Kowt was the heart of the Taliban. He believed that if we could seize Tarin Kowt, we’d rip out the heart of the Taliban movement.”“And in the end, I think that is what proved to be true. Tarin Kowt was really so important in a symbolic sense, that by seizing Tarin Kowt, the Taliban movement lost its credibility in the Pashtun tribal belt. And ultimately, on December 8, the Taliban finally surrendered Kandahar to us”.But before that happened, the ‘Battle of Tarin Kowt’ still had to be won. Against the advice of Hamid Karzai and the Green Berets, the townspeople had risen up against the Taliban in mid-November, killing the mayor in the process. During a meeting with tribal elders celebrating the end of Ramadan, Hamid Karzai got word from Kandahar that the Taliban had dispatched a sizeable force to retake the town, and as nobody doubted, exact a terrible revenge. Hastily, Captain Amerine and his team and some 30 guerrilla’s raced southwards in three pick-up trucks to set up a defence line at a strategic location.

Calling up air support using their call sign ‘Texas 12’, ODA 574 was able to take out some of the dozens of trucks filled with fighters that came racing up the Kandahar-Tarin Kowt road. But the Afghan guerrilla’s panicked and fled the defensive position, leaving the eleven Green Berets little choice but to join them, having no transport means of their own. Leaving their panicked guerrillas at the HQ, ODA 574 drove back out to the edge of town where they continued to direct air strikes.

The people of the town poured into the streets to support the team. Close air support continued to wreak havoc among the Taliban, but eventually, they made it into town. Major Amerine explains what happened next:

“We noticed that a lot of the people actually came out with guns. My sergeants grabbed them and had them establish a hasty defence at the edge of town to help us. But the Taliban did finally make it to the edge of town. I wasn’t really sure exactly whether we were going to hold on to the town, but by mid-morning, the townspeople had successfully fought off the survivors of the convoy that had made it to Tarin Kowt.”Word about the defeat of the large Taliban force quickly spread through the region right down to their power base in Kandahar city. ODA 574, Hamid Karzai and a by now much larger guerrilla force began a successful march on Kandahar. But on 5 December, just three days before Kandahar surrendered, disaster struck.

A misguided 2000lb bomb hit the joint Afghan-US force in the town of Shah Wali Kot; killing two of the Green Berets and dozens of Afghan fighters, and slightly wounding Hamid Karzai. It was the worst ‘friendly-fire’ incident of ‘Operation enduring Freedom’. All ODA 574 survivors were wounded, and had to be evacuated to a military hospital in Germany.

Eventually, Hamid Karzai became president of Afghanistan, but to this day, the close relationship he had built up with Captain Amerine remains intact. The men of ODA 574 received three silver stars (two posthumously), five bronze stars for valour, two bronze stars, and eleven Purple Hearts. Amerine, now a Major, today teaches international relations at West Point, the US military academy.

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Five years after the battle of Tarin Kowt
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