Remembering Mike Spann, the First US Hero Killed in Afghanistan War After 9/11

by Samantha Whidden
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“Never forget.” This is the statement that we say on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Today, we are honoring not only those who have died in the infamous event but also those who fought and died in the Afghanistan War. Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, a Marine turned CIA agent, was the first U.S. hero killed in the War just a little over two months after the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

New York Post reported that according to Harnden’s book “First Casualty,” Mike Spann was newly married to his second wife, Shannon, when the September 11th attacks took place. Following the attacks, Spann reportedly told his then 9-year-old daughter, Alison, as he was preparing for deployment, “Someone has to go do the things no one else wants to do.” 

Mike Spann joined Team Alpha, which quietly invaded Afghanistan on October 17th, 2001. The Team notably linked up with an Uzbek warlord in the Northern Alliance, General Abdul Dostum. The General reportedly stated, “Now we will go and kill the Taliban. We leave in fifteen minutes.”

The book notes that the CIA’s plan worked perfectly, with massive air strikes being called in to bomb Taliban positions and Dostum’s soldiers coming in to finish the enemy while on horseback. Less than 30 days after Team Alpha arrived in Afghanistan, the northern stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif had fallen. Kandahar’s stronghold fell shortly after. The Taliban were on the run by then.

Mike Spann is Killed in a Uprising at Qala-i-Jangi

On November 25th, 2001 though, Mike Spann and Team Alpha’s David Tyson, were in a fort, Qala-i-Jangi. The Fort held nearly 400 imprisoned foreign fighters. Among those who were imprisoned was John Walker Lindh, who was nicknamed the American Taliban. Lindh had left California when he was 17-years-old and move to Afghanistan. His ultimate goal was to become a Taliban volunteer. 

Both Mike Spann and Tyson had gathered as much information as possible on the prisoners. “Using all his languages and cultural expertise to begin to answer the riddle of who [the prisons] were and what their connection might be to foreign [terrorist] plots,” Harnden recalled. 

Unfortunately, as Mike Spann was gathering intel, the prisoners began to revolt and shamed him. He had shot some of the prisoners in self-defense but was overwhelmed. He was killed with his own gun. Tyson managed to fight his way out of the stronghold, killing between 12 and 40 men. Spann was dubbed the first American combatant to die in Afghanistan.

Harnden spoke about Mike Spann’s death by writing, “Thousands had died on 9/11, and hundreds of Afghans had been killed in the weeks of fighting since then. But this was the first casualty for America on a new, global battlefield.

Mike Spann was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on December 10th, 2001. During her eulogy, Spann’s wife stated that he was a hero not for the way that he died but rather because of the way he lived. “Mike was prepared to give his life in Afghanistan. Because he already gave his life every day to us at home.”

Outsider.com