Author: Ronald Fry
Two years before the disastrous events in Lone Survivor, U.S. Army Captain Ronald Fry led an elite Special Forces team into the same remote and notorious region of north-eastern Afghanistan. In Kunar Province’s Pech Valley, the Green Berets of Hammerhead Six hunted “high-value targets,” seized weapon stockpiles, and dodged Taliban ambushers. But their greatest success came through unconventional warfare–the men’s efforts to “win hearts and minds” of Afghan villagers.
In a country known as the “Graveyard of Empires,” the Pech stands out as a particularly brutal killing ground, where more than 100 American soldiers have lost their lives. Huddled in shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains, fiercely independent Pashtun tribesmen have for centuries resisted intrusion. It was here in 2003, in a place where the line between civilians and armed zealots blurred, that Hammerhead Six established Camp Blessing, the first Special Forces “A” Camp set up since Vietnam.
Captain Ronald Fry, whom locals took to calling the “Red-bearded Commander,” recounts how his team–despite the constant threat of rocket attacks and Taliban fighters–chose to engage locals, respect their economic and cultural norms, and show them, if only for a few fleeting months, that Americans could serve as liberators. The Green Berets, in keeping with their motto De Oppresso Liber (To Free the Oppressed”0, repaired schools, offered free medical care, helped settle village disputes, trained local security forces, and created an atmosphere of trust.
For the first time, an ungovernable province seemed governable. But it was not to last. When Hammerhead Six left the valley in 2004, their successors reverted to a conventional search-and-destroy strategy. Tragedy would follow.
In Hammerhead Six, Fry recalls the seemingly forgotten accomplishments of his unit–and makes a passionate argument that its mission is a blueprint for how the American military can succeed through unconventional warfare in the wars of the twenty-first century.