Fierce fire fight in Shok valley produces two Green Beret Medal of Honor recipients

"Then all of a sudden, everything just kind of exploded all at once," said Master Sergeant Matthew Williams

Jack Murphy
October 15, 2019 - 10:14 am
Afghan commandos

DVIDS, Photo by Photo by Senior Airman Sean Carnes

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On April 6th, 2008 the Green Berets of ODA 3336 flew into the Shok valley with their Afghan commando counterparts. The mission was nothing less than the capture or killing of one of the most high-value targets in the country—Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. 

As the CH-47's broke through cloud cover and reached their landing zone at the rocky bottom of a valley, it became clear that they wouldn't be able to land. The joint U.S.-Afghan team would have to jump off the ramp and drop down the remaining 10 feet. Once on the ground, the team found themselves near a freezing river, the terrain covered in a layer of snow. Everything was quiet. Up in the valley ridges around them, there were far more structures and compounds than were revealed on the overhead imagery they had used during mission planning.

Their target, Hekmatyar, had been a fixture of Afghan politics for nearly 40 years. Back during the Soviet occupation, he had been one of the largest beneficiaries of CIA supplied armaments and munitions funneled to the mujahadeen through Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. After the Soviet withdrawal, Hekmatyar refused to be a part of the newly formed Afghan government and waged a civil war against it.

He was known as being responsible behind the rocketing of the Afghan capital of Kabul, resulting in massive collateral damage. In the 1990s he was made prime minister as part of a power-sharing agreement with the new Afghan president, a post he occupied twice until he was unseated by the Taliban. He was then forced to flee to Iran, and then to Pakistan. 

"Then all of a sudden, everything just kind of exploded all at once," said Master Sergeant Matthew Williams. "There was machine gun fire, some RPGs [Rocket Propelled Grenades] started going off."  Williams was at the time a E-5 who had come to 3rd Special Forces Group after enlisting in the 18 X-Ray program which puts Army recruits straight into the Special Forces pipeline. 

Williams and his team sergeant, Scott Ford, did their best to find cover and concealment in the valley but they had another element that had to take casualties and now needed to be evacuated down the steep valley cliffs. A casualty collection point (CCP) was established and Matthews began up the rocky terrain to recover injured teammates. One had his led nearly amputated by enemy fire. In all, there were three wounded teammates that Williams had to get back to the CCP.

Williams and other ODA members were able to scout out a route to move the casualties, but they were often under heavy gunfire. Once at the CCP, they continued to take fire. They were engaged in combat with an estimated 200 enemy fighters for six hours until MEDEVAC helicopters could be flown in to exfiltrate the team. 

"They were taking fire the entire time," Williams said of the MEDEVAC helicopters. "They were awesome pilots...they came in and saved the day really."  

Last year, the ODA's senior medic Staff Sergeant Ronald Shurer II was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the mission. This month it was announced that Williams' Silver Star awarded for that operation will be upgraded to a Medal of Honor. "It is an honor for me to receive it on behalf of the Special Forces regiment and hopefully represent the regiment in a positive manner and help get the story out about what we are actually doing and what Green Berets are actually capable of," Williams said in a recent interview.

Hekmatyar returned to Afghanistan after 20 years of exile in 2016 with his fighters and his Hezb-e Islami is a political party in the government. President Trump will award Master Sergeant Williams the Medal of Honor on October 30th.

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