WASHINGTON – “I want an investigation. That was no investigation. My son’s dead and you’re going to give me some B.S.?”
Charles Strange is just one of a number of surviving family members who do not believe the Pentagon’s explanation of how, and why, their sons were killed in the single deadliest incident in the war in Afghanistan.
A congressional hearing on Thursday briefly looked into the downing of the helicopter with the call sign Extortion 17 in Eastern Afghanistan, on Aug. 6, 2011.
After the hearing, family members of those killed aboard the craft poked holes in the testimony of the military brass who testified.
Family members told WND, contrary to what they heard, they believe:
- Afghans did compromise the mission
- The Taliban was aware Navy SEALs were aboard the chopper
- Suppressing fire should have been used to clear the landing zone
- The antiquated Chinook helicopter was inappropriate for the mission
- A Muslim cleric did, in fact, condemn their fallen sons in a bizarre ceremony
Family members said nothing they heard Thursday contradicted their strong suspicions the Taliban was aware that 30 U.S. special forces soldiers, including 17 members of SEAL Team VI, were aboard the chopper, and that they were killed in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Members of SEAL Team VI had killed bin Laden three months earlier, on May 1, 2011.
Two days later, during a Washington, D.C., dinner event, Vice President Joe Biden publicly revealed that SEAL Team VI had killed bin Laden.
The family members believe SEAL Team VI was then targeted for revenge, and they also believe the Taliban was tipped off that SEAL Team VI members were aboard the craft.
On Thursday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Garry Reid testified, “We do not believe the mission was compromised.”
He said there was no chance the Taliban was tipped off, because, he claimed, there was no consultation with Afghan forces prior to the shooting down of Extortion 17.
Family members told WND that is not what the U.S. military has told them previously.
Mary Ann Strange, stepmother of killed Navy SEAL Michael Strange, said she and her husband, Charles, were told the Afghans were aware of every joint mission, because if Afghans refused to participate, a mission would be scrubbed.
Reid also testified that no suppressing fire was used to clear the landing zone because they wanted to maintain “the element of surprise,” but the Stranges we’re buying that, either.
They said information on a compact disc the U.S. military had inadvertently given the families showed two reasons to believe the Pentagon was not telling the truth.
One of the 1,364 pages of documents, which they showed to WND, revealed the chopper team asked for suppressing fire three times, but was denied.
The documents, which the Pentagon had the temerity to ask the Stranges to return, also showed the military was aware the area was crawling with Taliban, making surprise unlikely in an already three-hour long firefight.
“You don’t have the element of surprise when you are using a Chinook helicopter,” added attorney Larry Klayman, who will be representing the Stranges, and the family of fallen Exortion 17 crew member Patrick Hamburger, in a lawsuit. (Klayman successfully sued the Obama administration recently to try to stop NSA domestic spying, in a case likely headed to the Supreme Court.)
When asked why the chopper’s black box had not been recovered, Reid said such flight recording devices are not standard on Chinooks.
Strange said an Internet search showed him that Chinooks instead have three recording devices as standard equipment, even if they are not called black boxes.
Speaking of Reid’s testimony, Strange said, “That’s a lie under oath. He should go to jail.”
Strange said the documents he possessed show a recording device was located next to the pilot.
“They find those devices in the swamps and on the bottom of the ocean, but you can’t find one in a river?” he asked sarcastically, referring to the spot where chopper crashed.
Reid also testified he believed the Vietnam-era chopper was “appropriate” for the mission.
The Strange’s noted that similar missions had been performed by stealthy Black Hawk helicopters without incident, and likened operating the Chinook to trying to drop a “school bus” in a hot landing zone.
“Who put them on the (expletive) Chinook? Who made the call? Those are the the kind of answers we want,” demanded Strange, adding, “We want to talk to the president.”
“He talked about that poor Trayvon Martin for how long? He can’t give us 20 minutes to talk about our 30 kids? I cry every day. My heart hurts every day. My kids cry.”
Billy and Karen Vaughn, who lost their son Aaron in the mission, also blamed the rules of engagement that often prevent U.S. forces from returning enemy fire because of a fear of hitting civilians.
The Vaughns believe the rules are overly restrictive and blame the administration for sacrificing American warriors to political correctness. Billy said he was told the rules are part of an attempt to “win the hearts and minds” of the enemy. But, he told WND, his son, Aaron, always felt his job was to kill the enemy not make friends with them.
The Vaughns blame the administration for the needless deaths of American warriors. Billy previously told WND, “American warrior blood is pooling in the Oval Office.”
The Pentagon’s Reid testified that it was his understanding that it was an Afghan military commander who works with U.S. forces, not a Muslim cleric, who spoke over the bodies of the dead American warriors at a ceremony in Afghanistan. Reid said he did not speak Arabic, but understood the words spoken were honoring, not condemning the Americans.
Oversight Committee acting chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, choked up while asking Reid to ask military brass to reconsider that practice.
Taking a moment to compose himself, he then blurted out, “I don’t want some Afghan saying something about my son.”
Family members in the hearing room then broke out in applause.
After the hearing, surviving family members questioned Reid’s explanation, pointing out that Afghans speak Pashto and Dari, not Arabic.
And, Klayman said eight different translations had confirmed that the cleric had said words damning the fallen warriors to hell as infidels.
Doug Hamburger, whose son, Patrick, was an Army staff sergeant and crew chief on board the helicopter when it went down, raised more questions about the use of Afghans on the mission.
He said he’d spoken with other pilots who had taken special operations forces into battle who said many missions had to be scrubbed because the Afghans often would not show up.
And, when they did board U.S. transport crafts, they would often immediately pull out cell phones and start to take pictures inside the craft, despite the fact they are not allowed to have any communication devices when they go into battle.
He said U.S. troops would take the phones and smash them onto floor.
“So,” Hamburger deadpanned, “Can you imagine the type of camaraderie between U.S. special forces and these Afghan folks?”
“And in Afghanistan, there isn’t a Verizon on every corner, so they’re getting these phones from somewhere, and it isn’t the military, it’s someone else.”
That was just one of the reasons Hamburger still strongly felt the mission members were the victim of a setup.
The families pointed out they were sincerely grateful to Chaffetz for convening the hearing. However, they were not happy that families have not been allowed to testify before Congress.
Among the questions they still want answered:
- Did someone in U.S. command or joint command make the last minute decision to remove 7 Special Op’s Afghans from Extortion 17 or did the Afghans on the ground make that decision?
- Was there intelligence prior to mission lift that their might have been a security breach in mission integrity?
- Was intelligence aware of the ongoing fire fight and the impact on mission planning?
- Why, if intelligence had already been established that insurgents were in a tower and in the hot landing zone, was the mission given a go?
- Where was the air escort on insertion?
- Why were all the bodies cremated?
Visibly crying at the end of the hearing, Chaffetz said, “I thank the families for their sacrifice. I just hope they feel the love, here.”
Then he shook hands with all the gathered service members and surviving family members, as they filed past him.
Klayman, noting Chaffetz had begun the hearing by saying they were there to dispel “myths,” disputed that, saying there were legitimate questions that needed answers.
And, he asserted they needed answers from someone other than four political appointees who “can lose their jobs at any moment if they say the wrong thing,” but by military commanders, including the commander in chief.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth