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Soldiers, airmen decorated for Afghan combat

Gen. Eric Shinseki, the U.S. Army's chief of staff, awards Capt. Luke Amerine the Bronze Star.  

FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky (CNN) -- A group of Special Operations troops who fought with anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan were awarded combat medals Tuesday in a ceremony at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Commanders awarded the Bronze Star to 11 Green Berets for bravery in battles against the Taliban outside Kandahar and in putting down the Taliban and al Qaeda prisoner revolt outside Mazar-e Sharif. The military also awarded the Purple Heart to 13 soldiers and two Air Force airmen wounded in Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, commander of the Army's 5th Special Forces Group, said U.S. commanders "wanted some men to go behind the enemy lines, find disparate groupings of Afghani warriors, move into the area surrounded by the enemy, build these forces up and meld them into a cohesive fighting force that would sweep the Taliban out of power."

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Lambert said the men had to overcome isolation, a lack of shelter, food and water, and differences of language, culture and tactics between them and the Afghan fighters they were sent in to assist.

"Finally, they had to conquer one last thing, and that was the Taliban -- and they've done it," Lambert said. "These Green Berets to my left here were all wounded in that fight, and today we honor them with medals for valor and with Purple Hearts for their wounds."

Capt. Luke Amerine, who was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, led one of those Green Beret detachments. He was sent into Afghanistan to supply weapons and ammunition to anti-Taliban fighters led by Hamid Karzai, now the leader of Afghanistan's interim government.

"Karzai's guerrillas were not all that well-organized," Amerine said. "He was still trying to build its force. It was difficult at times to tell exactly how many of his guerrillas were with us."

But a victory against Taliban forces at Terin Kote, a town outside Kandahar, "gave him the credibility really to build an army at that point."

"We enabled him to have a relatively quick victory in Terin Kote that I think gave him the credibility he needed for a more speedy victory in the area."

Three men from Amerine's detachment were killed in December by a stray U.S. bomb outside Kandahar.

"When we were struck by the bomb, our immediate concern was taking care of the casualties," Amerine said. "There wasn't a great deal of time to sit and worry about anything else or to feel bad about the incident. We were too worried about keeping our guys alive."

He said the soldiers killed were "closer than family."

"Once the wounded were stabilized, and there wasn't anything else to do, I took a moment to go off, and I had a good long cry," Amerine said.

CNN Correspondent Art Harris and writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.




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