Long after the sun had dipped behind the high peaks of the Hindu Kush, on a moonless night four Navy SEALs fast-roped down from a Chinook helicopter onto an isolated ridge. It was June 27, 2005, and the elite team of American warriors was on a kill or capture mission—code-named Operation Red Wings—in the heart of Taliban country. Their target was a tribal fighter named Ahmad Shah, whose attacks had taken a high toll on U.S. Marines in the area.
The SEAL team moved stealthily through the night across an unforgiving terrain of dense brush and rocks toward their predetermined observation point. But early the next morning they were discovered by a group of local goatherds. Lt. Michael Murphy, the SEALs’ leader, faced a dilemma: let them go and compromise his team’s position or kill them, a potential war crime. With buy-in from his men, Murphy released the Afghans.
Within an hour, the SEALs were ambushed by as many as 40 heavily armed Taliban. An intense firefight erupted. The badly ou...