Pentagon defends deadly Afghan mission

Pentagon officials on Thursday insisted a 2011 Navy Seal mission in which 30 troops were killed in the downing of a Chinook helicopter was not compromised.

The officials said the Taliban had no advance knowledge of the mission, which resulted in the deadliest attack on U.S. troops in the 12-year Afghan war. Eight Afghan soldiers were also killed in the attack.

ADVERTISEMENT
“We do not believe the mission was compromised,” said Garry Reid, principal deputy assistance secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict. “There’s no possibility of information going up the chain and somehow going out to the Taliban.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight National Security subcommittee, began investigating the crash last year after meeting with family members of the deceased.

Family members have raised red flags about the Afghans on board the mission, and questioned the safety of the CH-47D Chinook helicopter. They've also criticized the Pentagon's post-operation recovery and handling of the remains.

Pentagon officials testifying at a House Oversight subcommittee said that the Taliban fighters who shot down the Chinook did not know that the helicopter was coming. In front of a packed audience that included some of the deceased's family members, they also said Afghan military officials were not notified of the SEAL mission beforehand.

The 2011 Extortion 17 mission was conducted to provide back-up to Army Rangers who were seeking to capture or kill a senior Taliban commander, Qari Tahir.

The CH-47D Chinook approached the fight from the opposite direction of the Rangers, and scans of the battlefield did not detect the Taliban fighters in the building where they fired the shot that took down the helicopter.

“We believe the enemy positioned itself in the building whether or not they knew anyone was coming in,” Reid said. “It was an advantageous place tactically to strike the aircraft as it approached.”

Afterward, family members represented by Freedom Watch’s Larry Klayman said the Pentagon officials had failed to respond to their questions.

Doug Lamborn, whose son Staff Sgt. Patrick was killed, said he wanted to know why Afghans were not interviewed as part of the military’s post-crash investigation.

"I think we still have quite a few answers we need," he said. "I think a lot of things they were told not to go into."

Charles Strange, the father of Navy SEAL Michael Strange, said that he did not believe the explanations from the Pentagon that the Taliban wasn’t tipped off to the Extortion 17 mission.

The family members had also wished to testify at Thursday's hearing, the first to examine the “Extortion 17” operation.

Klayman said that Chaffetz and the committee barred them from doing so.

Chaffetz asked a slew of questions at the hearing that he said family members had raised, from why advanced fire wasn’t used as the helicopter approached to why Afghan soldiers were aboard the mission.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the mission was the failure to recover a black box from the crash site. But Reid said that the Chinooks do not have one.

Chaffetz took particular issue with the memorial service conducted at Bagram Airfield for both the fallen U.S. and Afghan troops.

“My sense of it is that there probably should be two different ceremonies,” Chaffetz said.

“I can’t even imagine having my son or daughter go through this, but I don’t want some Afghan saying something about my son,” Chaffetz said, prompting an “amen” and applause from the family members attending.

There have been allegations that the Afghan official speaking at the memorial made derogatory remarks toward the deceased U.S. soldiers.

Reid said there were some interpretations of the Afghan military commander's remarks that he was “condemning the Americans, the infidels.” But he said the Pentagon was “told on good authority he was commemorating all of our fallen, and condemning the enemy.”

Reid said Thursday that the CH-47D Chinook was an appropriate helicopter for the mission, and that the MH-47 Special Operations Chinook would not have fared any better against the rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that struck the helicopter.

“Both aircraft have identical survivability,” Reid said. “This was the appropriate aircraft for this mission. The choice of this aircraft was tactically sound.”

Not all lawmakers were convinced. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) questioned why an aircraft with better protections against RPGs wasn’t used, and criticized the “high-risk” mission.

“The right equipment wasn’t used. We put our people at risk,” Mica said.

Reid responded that no other helicopter or aircraft could have been used for this specific mission.