CIA agent William Rawlins and Colonel Ray Schoonover decided to team up and founded Operation Cerberus, an operation that would eliminate terrorist stationed in Afghanistan. With the help of Billy Russo and Morty Bennett in funding, they would transport heroine into soldiers that were killed on the battlefield and taken home. Schoonover and Rawlins got a group of soldiers into Cerberus Squad, notably Frank Castle.
Amidst the operation, Afghan National Police officer Ahmad Zubair learned of the operation and was captured by Cerberus Squad. Zubair was tortured by Rawlins and was executed by Castle, placing him in an unmarked grave in Kandahar. Unbeknownst to the squad, Gunner Henderson secretly taped the torture and execution and gave it to David "Micro" Lieberman, an NSA analyst who gave it to Dinah Madani.
As the operation progressed, Cerberus Squad learned that a high ranking terrorist leader was stationed in Kandahar. Rawlins ordered the squad to go there despite the risk of ambush and unsuitable terrain for a helicopter evacuation. The ambush resulted in Schoonover losing his arm with casualties and injuries. Castle took command and saved the remaining soldiers while dealing with the insurgents inside.
Returning to base, Rawlins asked the squad did they kill the target and not caring for the casualties. Castle punched Rawlins, blinding him in the left eye and was taken away by Russo and the last remaining squad members. With the lack of confidence of Rawlins' leadership and heavy casualties, Operation Cerberus was shut down.
Both Rawlins and Schoonover decided to eliminate Castle for they believed he leaked the tape of Zubair's execution. Ordering Cerberus Squad to kill the family while the three gangs start a shootout, Billy Russo refused to participate but allowed the event to happen. In addition, Rawlins ordered Carson Wolf to eliminate Micro and frame him a traitor.
Schoonover, better known as the Blacksmith, rose through the ranks as one of New York City's most powerful drug lords. Despite efforts to track him, the Blacksmith proved to be elusive. Eventually, an undercover agent learned that the Blacksmith had arranged a meeting in Central Park between the Dogs of Hell, the Kitchen Irish, and the Mexican Cartel. District Attorney Samantha Reyes set up a sting operation but did not clear the park of civilians due to fear of showing their hand.
When the Blacksmith failed to appear and gangs grew eventually learned the agent's true identity they started a firefight. Using this as cover Cerberus Squad opened fire on Frank Castle, who was spending time with his family after returning from Afghanistan. Castle was shot in the head but survived. His wife Maria, and children Lisa and Frank Jr. all lost their lives.
Determined to protect her reputation, Samantha Reyes coerced physician Gregory Tepper into identifying the undercover agent as a John Doe and kept news of the massacre from leaking for a week. Reyes also placed a "do not resuscitate" order on Frank Castle in an attempt to ensure his death.
Although Castle flatlined, he came back to life and escaped the hospital, intent on punishing those responsible for his family's death. Castle's mission was successful, leading him to learn that his former C.O. and mentor Ray Schoonover was a cause of his families death, eventually killing him.
Castle eventually joined forces with David "Micro" Lieberman, an NSA analyst who was deemed dead and framed a traitor after surviving a assassination attempt by William Rawlins. Castle learned that his past operation in Afghanistan was also a force behind the massacre.
In chronological order:
- The Punisher