gmhtoday February March 2018 18 gmhToday Feb March 2018 - Page 72

Author’s Corner Local Author Brokered Unique Peace in Afghanistan Written By Jordan Rosenfeld T he best job that Morgan Hill resident and former Army Special Forces Captain Ronald Fry ever had was also the hardest of his life. In 2003, Fry led an elite team of Green Berets into a remote and notoriously dangerous region of Northern Afghanistan—Kunar Province’s Pech Valley. The Pech Valley was also made famous by the events depicted in Lone Survivor, a movie in which Navy Seals were ambushed while searching for a Taliban leader, and only one soldier, Marcus Littrell, survived. the Pech Valley is home to tribal Muslim families, many of whom have been at war with one another for centuries over deeply rooted and ancient family conflicts. It’s also an area that has been besieged by fighting between the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups. While Fry’s team, known as Hammerhead Six, was ostensibly sent there to take down high-level Al Qaeda operatives, he took a very different tack than previous teams. His team helped to establish a level of peace and good will between themselves and the Afghan people that had not been seen for hundreds of years, and has not been seen since. Despite thier efforts, after a remarkable nine months of brokering peace between the local villages and helping to defend them against Taliban and other militant groups, the region eventually returned to a state of continual warfare. Fry chronicled his experience in Hammerhead Six: How Green Berets Waged an Unconventional War Against the Taliban to Win in Afghanistan’s Deadly Pech Valley. He wrote the book with Tad Tuleja, and it was published by Hachette Books in 2016. As Fry told gmh TODAY , his goal was “to pass on lessons learned from that experiment that didn’t get passed on as well as they should have.” When Hammerhead Six arrived in the Pech Valley, Fry made a point of steeping his team in the culture of the area, growing beards like the locals and wearing Afghan dress to respect their rules and codes, even when they did not understand them. “Our plan was to have them treat us as guests, not foreign invaders,” Fry said. They did so by “addling a lot of value to the area” building two girls’ schools, refurbishing mosques, offering medical care and more. Fry and his team had to learn the Pashtun Muslim culture’s norms and codes, which included specific ways of navigating conflict and included a disdain for foreigners. “They don’t respect anyone who doesn’t have guns,” Fry explained. “They believe in an eye for an eye, so if you kill someone, then they are obligated to kill someone in your family.” 72 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN He said they encountered a few conflicts “that ran back several generations where every couple of years someone was killing someone based on a conflict they didn’t even remember.” By connecting with the tribal representatives from each village and making themselves useful, they were able to negotiate trades—known as a “blood payment” of items such as rice, goats or money in lieu of an honor killing— in enough cases that peace began to settle in the villages. “We were giving them the opportunity of having an honorable way to accept these deaths and move on,” said Fry. Once, however, when some locals were killed as “collateral damage” in fighting, he said, “I was put in the position of negotiating for peace or revenge.” After hours of intense negotiation, he was able to come up with a payment amount that saved some of his soldiers’ lives.” Fry became known as “The Red-Bearded Commander,” an experience both fun and surreal at times. “I was crowned a warlord, or a warrior king,” he said. He recalled being part of a special meeting known as a “shura” —a kind of tribal council, in which emissaries from the villages came and laid out their problems to the district leader and him. “I was helping to navigate regional and local politics for this valley, from permission to marry off daughters to taxes on opium.” On one occasion he was even offered a wife (despite that he had an American wife and children back home). “I had to try to say no without insulting him,” he said. While he appreciated the offer, telling the man he was flattered, he had to pass. “I told him I would eventually leave and his daughter deserved to be married to a good Muslim man.” It was enough to get out of a particularly sticky situation. Fry’s team was also able to enlist and train 130 Afghan fighters to join with them to fight off Taliban and other militant groups, also a precarious process. While Americans “do rank and structure based on merit, they do it based on who your f ֖ǒ2( R6BRBF&R6&VgVBFffV@R"WB6VR6BbW'6vv2&fRFV"7FFখƖfRFWvW&RVFFVǒ&RF'&rV6RFFR&V&fVBVVvFB22#&VgVvVW2vBfVBFR&VV'2&Vf&RGW&pFR'W766fƖ7B6RRg&7F( FW&RvW&RFW6R&WV2FR7G&VWBBvRB6'@dT%%T%$4#6FVVBvRvևFF6