WASHINGTON – Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian Claughsey was awarded the Silver Star on Friday for his heroism in battle protecting U.S. special forces during a fierce, four-day firefight in Kunduz, Afghanistan.
It was September 28, 2015 when Claughsey's combat-controller team "got a call early morning saying that Kunduz was under attack by the Taliban and we needed to go up and help the special forces team that was up there," he said Friday in a phone call with reporters.
For four days, with no sleep and under constant fire from Taliban guns or mortars, Claughsey directed U.S. airstrikes during the battle.
The first firefight broke out overnight as Claughsey's team joined Army Special Forces at a forward operating base near the Kunduz airfield. By morning, U.S. forces had retaken the airfield from Taliban fighters, though they received word that the city of Kunduz had fallen.
The combat controllers and Army Special Forces geared up to enter the city center, borrowing "a bunch of trucks from the Afghan National Army" and formed a 50-vehicle convoy. Claughsey said he was in the fourth vehicle, an unarmored Afghan pickup truck, along with a fellow combat controller, an Army Special Forces soldier and an Afghan army officer.
"As soon as we got past the airfield, we started taking fire from a building," he said.
From inside the truck, Claughsey directed an overhead AC-130 gunship to protect the convoy. He also returned fire with his M4 assault rifle as the convoy "reacted to the entire route being covered with Taliban," he said.
The convoy was ambushed twice and encountered Taliban every 100 to 200 meters, he said. Claughsey directed "several airstrikes along the way. One of the strikes ended up being 70 meters from our location. The AC-130 did phenomenal job putting rounds down to allow us to continue on."
As the convoy traveled deeper into the city, insurgents set off a bomb-laden vehicle in their path to trap them. Claughsey's truck was stopped at an intersection.
"Where my vehicle ended up stopping, we got opened up on by two enemy machine guns from really close locations," he said.
The pickup truck would not have survived that assault, Claughsey said, but two Army Special Forces soldiers quickly maneuvered their own armored vehicle in front of the truck to protect the team and returned fire with a heavy machine gun mounted on their vehicle.
The convoy got to its destination, the compound of the Kunduz chief of police, but was quickly surrounded by enemy fighters. Two more days of mortars and gunfire ensued. With no sleep, exhaustion set in.
"The Taliban was making their final affront to try to take over the compound – we were attacked from three sides," Claughsey said.
A call for help came in, Army Special Forces not far from Claughsey's position were pinned down by mortar fire. Claughsey and another special forces soldier responded. Claughsey would mark the spot where the mortar fire was coming so aircraft could destroy it.
The men climbed to the roof to direct an airstrike and "we were immediately pinned down," Claughsey said. The men fought from the roof for another hour, returning fire with rifles and a grenade launcher to create an opportunity to mark the target for an F-16 fighter jet to destroy it.
"With no regard for his own safety … Claughsey exposed himself to direct enemy fire in order to hold a laser marker on the enemy building for an air-to-ground strike while directing the friendly force out of the danger area," according to the Air Force's official narrative accompanying the Silver Star. "Claughsey held the laser marker in place to guide in two ‘danger close' strikes neutralizing the [command and control] node, killing enemy insurgents and ending the coordinated attack on the provincial chief of police compound."
The Air Force said Claughsey directed 17 close air support strikes during the four-day fight and the actions protected the lives of 36 Army Special Forces and 110 Afghan forces.
Claughsey, now 32, is a member of the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Field, North Carolina. He has served as a combat controller since 2014 and deployed twice, once as a Kuwait-based member of a special tactics team that establishes contingency airfields and once as a joint terminal attack controller attached to Army Special Forces.
He has recently been selected to become a special tactics officer and will be going to officer training school. Once he has completed that training, Claughsey will return to the Air Force special forces as a commissioned second lieutenant.
Claughsey has been previously awarded the Bronze Star, the Air Force Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.