Book Brings Stories of Kandahar to Life
“Lions of Kandahar,” a new book by Maj. Rusty Bradley, who lives in Fayetteville, and Kevin Maurer, relates “the most strategically significant battle in Afghanistan that you never heard of.”
The book, describing a story of success, of “a fight against all odds” and of “a few against many,” depicts the Battle of Sperwan Ghar. In the style of a novel, it has been described as “one of the best books written about the conflict.” It becomes available June 28, and The Country Bookshop, in Southern Pines, will host a book release party Tuesday, June 28, at 7 p.m.
“I remember jokingly in the middle of the operation thinking even if we ever wrote a book about this, nobody would ever believe it,” says Bradley, a member of the Army’s Special Forces. “It didn’t really become something that was important to me until we had gotten back.”
Kimberly Daniels, manager of The Country Bookshop, says that she asked to have a book launch and event as soon as she heard about the book.
“We are so excited to host Maj. Bradley and Kevin Maurer for the book launch of ‘Lions of Kandahar,’” Daniels says. “Our community is so shaped by its military members, and this book gives those of us who aren’t members of that community insight into what goes on when they’re overseas and fighting for us. I think it’s a compelling read, and it’s really important for all the members of our community to read it.”
Bradley lives in Fayetteville. He just returned from his fifth tour in Afghanistan. Walking through downtown Southern Pines on a sunny day, he says it feels “surreal” to be back. The American flags lining Broad Street are a patriotic reminder of why he fights — for his family and country.
“To me, (Army wives) are the unspoken heroes,” Bradley says. “They are the ones who don’t wear a uniform, but they still serve because they give you the reason to go out and do what you do.”
Bradley grew up in western North Carolina. He attended Mars Hill College and joined the Army to help pay off his debts. He says he found his niche in the Army and that it fed what was most important to him — “a consistent challenge of who you are and what you can accomplish.”
Writing a book is not a feat Bradley ever anticipated accomplishing. After returning from his third tour, he decided it was something he had to do.
Bradley partnered with reporter Kevin Maurer, formerly with The Fayetteville Observer, to write the story about his third tour and the battle he believes directly impacted the war on terror. Maurer has been embedded multiple times with the U.S. Special Forces and has seen firsthand the relationships teams such as Bradley’s build with the Afghans. He says it gives a human quality to their missions. He assisted Bradley in organizing and editing the book, but credits Bradley with the writing.
“Lions of Kandahar” is unique in that it was the first book written by anyone in special operations while they still served. Bradley tried to keep the military informed every step of the way. Maurer believes their support shows that the Army is willing to tell its story.
“The book is about us participating in a very large ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) operation and how it unfolded into our small part becoming the main effort for the entire operation,” Bradley says. “The experiences that we went through and the result of how it turned out drastically changed the face of how the enemy engages us, how we engage the enemy and how we try to protect the population. It’s really significant because all of that was captured in one small period of time. That and the details of the fight are pretty extraordinary.”
“Lions of Kandahar” humanizes the war on terror by telling the story from Bradley’s perspective. It covers the Battle of Sperwan Ghar and the events leading up to it from August to September 2006 in the Kandahar Province — the home and birthplace of the Taliban.
The battle’s significance stems from its location and the changes it affected in the way the Taliban fight. The Kandahar Province is a crossroad of five cities. Bradley says anything that happens politically or militarily in southern Afghanistan centers around the province. Without its support, the U.S. is starting to see the Taliban’s movement erode in that area.
Unlike many soldiers, Bradley has returned to the same place every rotation. He can see a progression from his first tour when he walks through bazaars where he experienced massive firefights. He describes a lively scene of children running through streets and women shopping where once only abandoned and collapsed buildings stood.
“I remember it when it was mayhem,” he says.
Bradley hopes readers will understand more about the war on terror and military life after reading “Lions of Kandahar.” He admitted some events were difficult for him to relive when writing the book. He can still see one of his comrades trying to save another soldier from a burning vehicle during the Battle of Sperwan Ghar. The book depicts the scene and paints a vivid picture of the battlefield — two soldiers desperately fighting so save the lives of their comrades while exposed to enemy fire.
“The battle itself I think is amazing,” Maurer says. “I’m amazed that they were able to do it. To me, it shows why Special Forces are special, and it’s a testament to why they are known as an elite force.”
The title, “Lions of Kandahar,” refers to the Afghan soldiers with whom Bradley’s team worked. The book shows the effort and bravery these “lions” displayed when fighting for their own freedom and success. Bradley says that America has support from a lot of former Afghan commanders, some of whom are government and military leaders. He believes that the Afghans realize that they will never know freedom unless they pick a side. It is part his job to make them understand that America is here to help them.
“I want (the American) people to know that we can still do damn near anything we want to do anytime we want to do it,” Bradley says. “The message that we’re resonating is that we’re no better friend, no worse enemy (to the Afghans). We’re still the people that you want to be friends with and not the people you want to cross.”
As for the Battle of Sperwan Ghar, Bradley wants people to know what his men did there — his book documents the bravery of a team facing nearly a thousand seasoned fighters and winning. He does not glamorize the battle, but he does not down play its significance either. “Lions of Kandahar” sticks to a true story of incredible valor and camaraderie, exposing vivid details of our soldiers’ experiences.
“We all see ourselves as very ordinary guys,” he says, “but what (my team) did was extraordinary. “People constantly come up to service members and say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I will tell you, if I wanted people to know something I would tell them, ‘Thank you for being a country worth fighting for.’”
Summer Hennings, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, is an intern at The Pilot.
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