(CBS) -- For a defeated enemy, the Taliban show lots of life. U.S. Army Special Forces say they were shocked by the disciplined military tactics used by hundreds of Taliban fighters who ambushed them near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in their first account of the unreported battle.
The Green Berets recount their traumatic experience of fighting and escaping a much larger force that had surrounded them for two days, resulting in their unit becoming the most decorated Special Forces team in any single battle in Afghanistan.
Lara Logan's report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes this Sunday, April 20, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
The battle began at sundown June 23, 2006, when nine Green Berets, plus eight American and 48 Afghan soldiers were ambushed in a small village 12 miles outside Kandahar. They were searching for a Taliban commander. "It's like all hell breaks loose," recalls U.S. Army Special Forces Maj. Shef Ford. "The enemy is firing from all directions at us....Soldiers are trying to identify the positions and return fire. They had completely surrounded us and were firing at us with multiple systems," says Ford.
It wasn't the usual Taliban hit-and-run tactics encountered before. "We had not seen this, this disciplined execution of infantry tactics," says U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. Brendan O'Connor. Another bad sign was falling mortar rounds, says Ford. "We also started taking mortar fire into the patrol base, which also demonstrated that there was somebody who knew about the weapons systems and how to operate it," Ford tells Logan.
The battle raged for two days and nights, with the outmanned force driving back Taliban attacks and U.S. aircraft periodically attacking enemy positions. There were many heroes that day whose courage prevented the unit from being overrun. One of them was U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Abram Hernandez, who climbed a ladder to fire at advancing enemy soldiers trying to capture two wounded U.S. troops and their translator. "Seeing Hernandez propped up at that ridiculous angle was absolutely inspiring," says O'Connor. "Tracer rounds were...whizzing right by our heads. I was [amazed by Hernandez]."
Then O'Connor - shucking his battle armor to lower his profile - slowly crawled toward the wounded men while U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sgt. Thom Maholic warded off another enemy team threatening the rescue by firing from a rooftop. Maholic's efforts saved the unit but resulted in him taking a bullet in the head. "He died in my arms," says Hernandez.
The two wounded men were rescued; but despite being carried back to safety by O'Connor, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joe Fuerst died of his wounds.
Unable to find reinforcements to come to their rescue, the surrounded soldiers planned an ingenious nighttime escape. They radioed the support aircraft above them to beam an infrared light invisible to the naked eye on a path back to their patrol base. The Green Berets, using their night-vision glasses, could see the beam and led their men to safety, while the aircraft attacked anything moving beyond the infrared beam.
Ford's unit and their supporting aircraft killed an estimated 120 Taliban fighters during the battle. Maholic was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for saving his unit and the Special Forces firebase near Kandahar was renamed after him.
Later this month, O'Connor will become only the second American to receive the Distinguished Service Cross for valor in Afghanistan. The entire unit was honored at a ceremony at Ft. Bragg late last year, making them the most decorated Special Forces team in any one battle of the Afghan war.
The battle indicates that the war with the Taliban in Afghanistan is far from over. "They've hid and they've trained," says Ford. "The Taliban want to take Afghanistan back...to reinstall their government, their system of life," he tells Logan.