When I served in Congress, particularly on the House Armed Services Committee, there were many times I had the privilege of receiving highly classified briefings. One brief I will NEVER forget detailed the incident behind the crash of a CH-47D Chinook helicopter, call sign Extortion 17 in the Tangi River valley in Afghanistan.
It represented one of the highest losses in the Naval Special Operations community of SEALS, and sadly enough it resulted in a lifelong bond and friendship with a couple who were constituents, Billy and Karen Vaughn, who lost their son, Aaron Vaughn, in the horrific shootdown. Billy wrote Betrayed which details a parent’s view of what happened with Extortion 17. I had the pleasure of writing an endorsement for the book and we featured a summary here.
The Vaughns and all other family members may never know the truth behind this tragedy – at least as long as the Obama administration is in control.
As reported by the Washington Times, “The Obama administration is violating a judge’s order to turn over documents in the Aug. 6, 2011, shootdown of a U.S. helicopter — call sign Extortion 17 — that killed members of SEAL Team 6 in Afghanistan, a watchdog group is charging.
On the fourth anniversary of the worst one-day loss of military life in the war on terror, families of the dead say they are aghast that the government will not honor basic requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
“It has now been four years since Extortion 17 was shot down,” said Doug Hamburger, whose Army air crew son, Patrick, was one of the 30 Americans killed. “I find it quite disturbing that the government is not willing to give us the answers we deserve. I find it very irritating that we will not question the Afghans about their knowledge of what took place that night.”
U.S. Central Command’s official investigation concluded that a rocket-launched grenade from a Taliban fighter standing near the landing zone clipped a rotary wing, sending the Ch-47 Chinook into a violent downward spin. It was the worst day for fatalities in the history of naval special warfare. The tragedy took some of the glow off Seal Team 6’s grand achievement just three months earlier: A team penetrated Pakistan airspace, infiltrated a compound in Abbottabad and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The families accept the fact that a single shot brought down the helicopter. But some say the official report, which contained no direct criticism of decision-makers that day, did not delve deeply enough. They believe SEAL Team 6 had a target on its back and that persons inside the Afghan National Security Forces may have tipped off the Taliban that night in Tangi Valley. That is why, they say, a fighter just happened to be stationed in a turret within 150 yards of a landing zone that had never been used before.”
Here are the questions that need to be answered by the Obama administration regarding the shooting down of Extortion 17:
1. Why was a relief column loaded onto a non-Special Operations equipped Chinook aircraft to go into what was a hot landing zone? The Army Rangers had been engaged in the AO (area of operations) so therefore the enemy was alerted.
2. Why did no escort attack helicopters go in with the Special Operators in this QRF (Quick Reaction Force)? And why were there no preparatory fires laid down in the vicinity of the HLZ (helicopter landing zone)?
3. Why were the accompanying Afghan troops changed out at the last minute, but the names not changed on the manifest? Remember that the Afghan Army leadership was briefed on the mission. Did we isolate/sequester those Afghan military officials privy to information on this operation and preclude their use of cell phones?
4. Why did we, just three months after Vice President Biden identified SEAL Team 6 in the bin Laden raid, did we load up such a high number of this elite force onto one aircraft and not take the proper pre-assault actions?
5. Why haven’t the families been provided with the truth, and who were the main decision-makers on this operation?
In case you’re unaware or have forgotten, “It was exactly four years ago, at 2:22 a.m., that a rebuilt conventional CH-47 Chinook helicopter took off from a forward operating base, carrying some of the most skilled and advanced warriors ever molded by U.S. special operations. Onboard were 17 members of SEAL Team 6; five naval special warfare operators, including one to intercept communications and another to handle Bart the war dog; five Army flight crewmen, including a National Guard and an Army Reserve pilot; and three Air Force personnel. The force included seven Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter. The mission itself has proven controversial to some family members. The immediate reaction force (IRF) was assembled hastily for insertion into Tangi Valley to help Army Rangers capture fleeing Taliban. The Rangers were not in need of rescue. Military officers interviewed by investigators said they could not recall an IRF (immediate reaction force) ever being sent for such a mission. The Chinook was descending on a noisy battlefield where Apache helicopters and a C-130 gunship had been buzzing overhead for three hours, alerting Taliban fighters. Planners selected a landing zone that had never been used before. The Chinook had no Apache escort, as did the Ranger team that enjoyed the element of surprise when it touched down hours earlier. The two Apaches, Gun 1 and Gun 2, on scene were never emphatically told to move near the landing zone to scan for threats. They stayed fixed on enemy “squirters,” or runners, until just a few minutes before landing.”
The result of this cacophony of errors and mistakes? No one had eyes on two Taliban armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers standing on a mud-brick turret well within range of the descending chopper — who in the darkness of the night, shot down Extortion 17.
The fact that no one is screaming at the Obama administration about this — along with Benghazi – demonstrates yet another example of the get-out-of-jail-free card this administration has, all to the detriment of the men and women in our Armed Forces. Obama is off enjoying another summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard.
How many families won’t have their loved ones ever again due to the incompetence of Extortion 17? Does this represent yet another cover up by the most transparent administration? Absolutely. Now, I know there are many conspiracy theorists out there who believe these brave Americans were set up as payback for the Osama bin Laden raid. I’ve read much on that subject and I do not subscribe to that line of thought. However, blocking information by the Obama administration only serves to fuel such errant deductions.
What has to be ascertained is why — as with so much else — does President Obama get a pass? Benghazi, Ft. Hood (still called workplace violence), Chattanooga, Extortion 17, and even this past weekend in Afghanistan — where Obama told us combat operations had ended, so he declared. These are all instances where this administration has failed, and our warriors have lost their lives. And stop with any considerations about blaming Bush! Here we have Obama castigating Americans as parallel to the Iranian hardline Islamist enemy. How much more shall we allow, America?
President Obama, put down the golf club and tell us what happened four years ago in the Tangi River valley.