KANASK, Afghanistan – The United States Special Operations Command has a reputation for being comprised of the most capable warriors in the world, men and women who have the amazing ability to switch from being relentless fighters to compassionate peacekeepers in the blink of an eye. If a complex mission needs to be accomplished, this fighting force will accomplish it under any circumstances.
The mission given to a Marine Special Operations (MARSOF) and a U.S. Army Special Forces team (USSF) on May 28, 2008 was no different, and was subsequently carried out with the same grit and audacity that has made Special Operations Forces a legendary and revered fighting force.
A Special Forces team leader, who participated in the mission, agreed to provide an insightful glimpse into the daily lives of the extraordinary American warriors who are changing the course of history by assisting with the development of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
“I love this profession … I have fought in Iraq once and Afghanistan twice now and, yes, I believe it is for a good cause,” the team leader said.
What follows is a description of the events of May 28, 2008 in western Afghanistan’s Farah Province.
The MARSOF and USSF team, partnered with an Afghan Commando element, departed a coalition base on the evening of May 28 to reinforce Afghan National Army elements who had already spent hours under fire in the village of Kanask.
The Commandos are an elite Afghan unit trained by SOF warriors. Despite having existed only one year, the Commandos’ reputation for unwavering discipline, adherence to the Law of War, and unprecedented success precede them wherever they go.
After driving for hours under the cover of darkness, the teams received word that an enemy leader was located in the town of Shewan. The element diverted to Shewan to search the area of the person’s last known location. During the operation, a number of insurgents were seen moving to advantageous firing positions. Coalition airplanes immediately responded with precision air strikes that neutralized the enemy positions.
The teams continued movement to link up with the friendly forces and, while enroute, were diverted to clear another village. Several more armed militants were killed.
The team leader said he was particularly impressed with the Commandos’ performance throughout the clearing operations.
“I thought we did really well working with the Commandos, considering the short amount of training time leading up to the operation. We will continue to combat advise and assist them as we work together to build a country that welcomes freedom and democracy,” he added.
With the clearing mission complete, the team headed back east, not aware of the fight that lay ahead, not knowing the decisions and sacrifices that would soon be made, but ready for anything nonetheless.
“As we came to the village of Shewan, we saw women and children leaving by foot and on a tractor. We also had our movements slowed down by a large truck that kept moving back and forth across the road, which was no doubt a stalling technique to allow for additional time to set up the ambush,” the team leader explained.
Two rocket propelled grenades suddenly exploded about 50 meters in front of his vehicle, followed by the crack of small arms and machine gun fire.
“My thoughts at this time were echoed by my turret gunner, who said ‘here we go again,’” said the team leader, who encountered many ambushes with the same turret gunner on a previous deployment in Afghanistan.
Due to the heavy enemy presence on both sides of the road, the team leader immediately issued the order for all weapons to begin firing at enemy locations.
Suddenly, the vehicle in front of the team leader’s was struck by two RPG’s, leaving it disabled and trapped in the middle of the ambush. Under a constant barrage of RPGs and bullets, the team leader instructed his driver to push to the front of the disabled vehicle, with the intent to initiate towing operations.
“As we moved to the front of the vehicle, I witnessed our warrant officer completely expose himself by moving over from the troop commander side of the truck to the driver’s door to save the driver’s life and stop him from burning,” the team leader said.
The vehicle was burning rapidly and an explosion was imminent, making it difficult for the warrant officer to get to his wounded comrade. The team leader said he believes that in the dust and smoke, the blazing vehicle was also bumped by another truck, causing it to slowly roll off the road.
“I was beginning to run after the vehicle to my Soldier when I saw three Marines cross the ambush line, completely exposing themselves in an attempt to save him, but they couldn’t because the vehicle was completely engulfed in flames,” said the team leader, who then switched gears and began laying suppressive fire for the Marines.
In the vehicle rode a hero.
Sgt. 1st Class David Nunez, a Special Forces senior engineer sergeant, died during the engagement. According to his team leader, he died the same way that he lived- doing his best for the ones he loved. This was Nunez’ third combat deployment. He leaves behind his parents and two young sons.
The MARSOF and USSF team soon brought the conflict to an end through deadly and accurate small arms fire and precision air strikes.
Hours later, after returning to the base, the team leader reflected upon the loss of his Soldier while watching from his computer as his infant daughter rolled over for the first time.
“What makes me so sad about this is the fact that my wife and I had our first child in December and I can’t imagine never hugging or kissing her again … and his two little boys will not get to see or kiss Daddy or ever really know him,” the team leader explained.
“With all that being said, I would trade places in a heartbeat to have him here and me dead … as a leader I guess that is something you automatically feel because every one of your men and their families is expecting you to get them home safely,” he added.
Though they continue to deal with the pain of losing a fellow Soldier and friend in combat, the Soldiers and Marines of the two teams will honor their fallen brother by maintaining their dedication to helping establish a secure and stable country for the people of Afghanistan.
“At the end of the day, I do this for the men on my left and my right. Simply stated, you will never find such a closely-knit group of men who would do anything for you and ask for nothing in return,” the team leader said.