A 96-hour battle that saw four ambushes, 17 airstrike missions
and the eventual safety of a 150-person team led to a special
tactics combat control airman receiving the Silver Star medal during
a ceremony at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina on April 7, 2017.
April 7, 2017- U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, presents
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian C. Claughsey, a combat controller with the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, a Silver Star medal at Pope Army Airfield, NC. Following a 96-hour battle with Taliban forces in Kunduz, Afghanistan, Claughsey was credited with coordinating 17 close air engagements, resulting in 47 of the enemy killed in action without a single civilian or friendly casualty.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy)
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian C. Claughsey, assigned to the
21st Special Tactics Squadron, was awarded the nation’s
third-highest valor medal for his role in helping to
liberate Kunduz City, Afghanistan, from the Taliban over
four days, Sept. 30-Oct. 4, while assigned to a joint
special operations team.
‘Consummate Special Tactics
"Brian is a consummate
special tactics professional," said Air Force Chief Master
Guilmain, the chief enlisted manager of the 720th Special
Tactics Group. "His recognition exemplifies the ground
combat skill, airmanship expertise and bravery that our
airmen bring to the joint special operations force."
Claughsey’s medal contributes to his unit’s legacy of valor;
the 21st STS is one of the most highly decorated Air Force
units in recent history in terms of individual valor awards,
totaling five Air Force Crosses and 10 Silver Stars since
9/11. Only nine Air Force Crosses have been awarded in that
period, and all have been awarded to special tactics airmen.
"The teams here aren't seeking any of this recognition;
it's really about the job for them, and it’s about the
service to our nation," said Air Force Lt. Col. Stewart
Parker, commander of the 21 STS. “If you saw these folks on
a day-to-day basis in the squadron, it's just how we do
The night before the four-day battle,
Claughsey, attached to a U.S. Army Special Forces team
alongside Afghan National Army forces, was notified that an
airfield in Kunduz province had been overrun by Taliban
forces. That night, the joint special operations forces team
successfully took back and secured the airfield, with the
Afghan army forces maintaining control of it.
Taliban Controlled City
The next morning, the team learned the entire city was
under Taliban control, and their mission was to liberate the
city of Kunduz. The team planned quickly
for the infiltration, borrowing pickup trucks from the
Afghan army and U.S. Army Special Forces Humvees to drive a
50-vehicle convoy into the city.
"As we passed the
airfield, civilians were leaving in droves, which is a
telltale sign that the Taliban took over," Claughsey said.
"The state of the city upon infiltration was completely
desolate, with the exception of the Taliban."
after passing the airfield the team had secured the night
before, the convoy was ambushed from a fortified building.
Claughsey, riding in the fourth vehicle with the ground
force commander, suppressed enemy fire by coordinating an
AC-130 gunship strike on the building.
point on, Claughsey was constantly coordinating with
aircraft above to relay information on the enemy's
whereabouts along the route.
"The entire route was
covered with Taliban forces, so there were several strikes
along the way -- one of the strikes was about 70 meters from
friendly forces," Claughsey said. "The AC-130 did a
phenomenal job of putting those rounds down and keeping us
safe and allowing us to continue on."
Then, the convoy tripped a wire, triggering a
vehicle-borne improvised explosive device and halting the
convoy in its tracks. Claughsey's vehicle was at a four-way
intersection and came under fire from two different machine
gun locations at close distance. While Claughsey fought back
with his personal weapon, two Special Forces soldiers in an
all-terrain vehicle mounted with an M-240B machine gun put
themselves between Claughsey's vehicle and the attackers to
protect and suppress the ambush.
"Those two soldiers
who placed themselves between us and the attack were the
only reason we survived that ambush," Claughsey said of the
two, who also received Silver Star medals for their actions
during the firefight.
With the enemy forces fleeing
their positions to maneuver behind the convoy, Claughsey
quickly coordinated an AC-130 strike and eliminated the
Claughsey and the team secured the Kunduz
provincial chief of police compound, where they would
continue to be attacked almost constantly for four days and
nights. At the compound, Claughsey received a call for help
from an Army Special Forces element receiving accurate and
relentless mortar, grenade launcher and small-arms fire.
"All that was going through my mind was that those guys
needed my help and we're all out there together as a team,"
Claughsey said. "I can't do my job without them, and vice
Claughsey neutralized the enemies
when he maneuvered to the attack site, coordinated with F-16
Fighting Falcon fighter jets, and controlled strafing runs
from about 140 meters away.
"The precision of the
aircraft and the confidence that we have in each other as a
team, from the controller on the ground and the aircrew, ...
we have a lot of faith in each other, and they certainly
didn't let us down out there,"
A couple of hours later, the Taliban
began their final attack on the compound, attempting to
retake the team's position. Attacked from three sides,
Claughsey willingly put himself in harm's way to coordinate
airstrikes from the roof.
"I was exhausted. ... It
was a four-day firefight. However, at a certain point, your
training kicks in and takes over," Claughsey said. "This
wasn't the first time that I hadn't slept or been stressed
out for four days straight. Our training pipeline is two
years, and it does a really good job of building resiliency
and putting you in stressful situations so you can
immediately adapt to the situation."
Once on the
roof, a Special Forces soldier and Claughsey were pinned
down by small-arms fire for about an hour. They continuously
fought back with their rifles, with Claughsey marking enemy
positions with his grenade launcher for aircraft to
impacting less than a meter away, Claughsey
controlled two 500-pound bombs within 185 meters of friendly
fighting positions, effectively stopping the onslaught of
enemy forces on the compound -- and ending the fight to
Over the course of 96 hours of
sustained and intense firefights, Claughsey coordinated 17
separate close air support engagements, with no civilian or
friendly casualties, ensuring the safety of the 36 U.S. Army
Special Forces personnel and 110 Afghan partner forces.
“I have absolutely no doubt that the [Special Forces
team] would have taken casualties and would not have been
successful if not for Brian on this mission,” the Army
Special Forces ground force commander noted in his
eyewitness statement about that mission.
said it isn’t about the recognition, but rather about doing
his job and doing it well.
"To hear children playing
in the street and people moving back into their homes ... to
know that we were successful ... and these people were back
in their homes, it was an incredible feeling," he said.
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Ryan Conroy
Air Force News Service
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