Military experts and the families of the soldiers killed in the August 6, 2011, helicopter crash in Afghanistan — the single largest loss of soldiers’ lives in the Afghanistan campaign — think it is fitting that they are sharing details regarding the unusual events and unanswered questions surrounding their son’s deaths now at a time when similar themes are being discussed at the Benghazi hearings.
Retired Major General Paul Vallely called the attack on the helicopter with the callsign Extortion 17, leading to the death of 25 American special operations personnel, including many from SEAL Team Six, five from the National Guard and Army Reserve crewmen, and eight Afghanis, a “lost story.”
U.S. Navy sailors in the honor guard fold a flag before the presentation ceremony for U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Joseph Strange, a cryptology technician, in Logan Circle Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, in Philadelphia. Strange was assigned to the Navy SEAL team whose Chinook helicopter was shot down Aug. 6 by a rocket-propelled grenade in what has become the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Families have recently been calling for a congressional investigation into the attack. (Photo: AP/Alex Brandon)
“I think it is timely that we are here at a time when Benghazi is going on,” Vallely said at a press conference where the family divulged details regarding their sons’ deaths. Like the events surrounding Benghazi, Vallely said he believes the crash of the helicopter, which was carrying many men who only 93 days before had aided in the killing of Osama Bin Laden, has “a constant plethora of lies and deceit.”
As the numbness over the news of their sons’ deaths began to lift, questions took its place. Charles Strange, the father of Navy SEAL Michael Strange, said he was embraced by President Barack Obama when he was receiving the body of his 25-year-old son back in the U.S. He asked the president if there would be an investigation, to which Obama said yes. In Strange’s assessment, and that of other parents present at the presser hosted by attorney Larry Klayman who is representing some of the families through Freedom Watch, such an investigation has not delved into the questions that need to be answered.
The accusations and questions
Their first point of contention is a comment made by Vice President Joe Biden that they believe “put a target” on their sons’ backs. After the death of bin Laden, instead of remaining general and using terms like “special forces team” to describe the soldiers who took him out, Biden identified the team as part of the Navy SEALS.
Biden mentions the SEALs in this video at an event just a couple days after the announcement of bin Laden’s death:
The parents of Aaron Vaughn, Billy and Karen, who spoke at the presser Thursday began voicing of their discontent regarding the SEALs being identified last year:
Former Navy SEAL Brandon Webb, who runs SOFREP.com (the Special Operations Forces Report, told TheBlaze in an email, though, that he thinks it would have been “virtually impossible” not to disclose the team responsible for killing bin Laden in today’s “age of social media.”
“If you remember there was a Pakatani tweeting about helicopters as the raid was happening,” he wrote.
But the families detailed other information surrounding the tragedy that they find objectionable. They question the type of helicopter being flown; why so many elite members of the military were in one helicopter at a given time; why command switched out members of the Afghani forces at the last minute; and why other procedures they considered protocol did not seem to have been followed.
“A Chinook from 1989? Unacceptable,” Strange said of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook the men were flying in that day. “93 days after killing bin Laden you put 22 [members of] SEAL Team 6 into a Chinook?”
“That helicopter is meant to transport troops and people …[it’s] not made to conduct special operations,” retired admiral James Lyon said.
Billy Vaughn said he believes if his son were flying in more modern aircraft suited for special operations the outcome might have been different. But even if the outcome wasn’t changed, it would at least “be a whole lot easier to live with,” he said.
Lyon called the details — and remaining questions — surrounding the event “pure dereliction of duty.”
“This is the same dereliction of duty you see reflected in Benghazi today,” he continued. “Not to come to the aid of our diplomats and our personnel when we’re under attack is un-American.”
Billy Vaughn also noted that a commander made a call to switch Afghani forces on the mission, which the families believe might have led to a leak of classified information to the Taliban about their plans. Vaughn said he doesn’t know what commander authorized this and said that fact wasn’t included in the military’s report, something he finds questionable.
Billy Vaugh, the father of SEAL Team 6 member Aaron Vaugh, speaks during a press conference on May 9, 2013 at the National Press club by families of Seal Team 6 members on the death of members during a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
What’s more, Karen Vaughn said the helicopter didn’t have an escort on its night mission to the Tangi Valley in an area that had already seen hours of hostility. This, she said, violates standard protocol.
But U.S. Central Command’s report issued October 13, 2011, called the decisions that led up to the Chinook being shot down “tactically sound.”
Webb with SOFREP offered his thoughts on these points to TheBlaze as well. He said that although it was unusual to have so many elite team members in one helicopter at a time, with limited assets and last minute missions he explained that it’s not unheard of. He also said the Chinook being flown isn’t quite out of the ordinary either.
“Chinooks are used all the time, it may have not been a TF160 helicopter but like I said before, assets are sometimes hard to come by,” Webb wrote.
The families and military experts on the panel lambast “rules of engagement” (ROE) that have they say in this case and in many others have prevented troops from protecting themselves adequately.
“Everybody knows our ROEs better than we do and they use them against us,” Lyon said.
On this Webb agreed.
“This is absolutely true, I’ve heard it from U.S. and Coalition forces. They say the current ROE is ridiculous …” Webb wrote.
What has been causing even more of a stir is an Islamic prayer that was said, in addition to another prayer, over the bodies in a ceremony in Afghanistan before they were brought home. TheBlaze reported in a separate article that the families believe the Arabic prayer was disrespectful and damning the soldiers to hell, while other experts say the prayer can’t easily be labeled a deliberate slap in the face.
“Our sons were subjected to a final act of betrayal by their government,” Karen Vaughn told TheBlaze of the prayer being read.
While at the same time, Islam expert Stephen Caughlin gave a bit more background on the prayer, which is common at Muslim funerals:
“Even a standard prayer is actually a little bit offensive because … it comes from a book of the Koran or a chapter of the Koran that’s basically about defeating the infidels. And [in exploring the issue] I basically showed that there were two verses quoted in the funeral rite.
If you back it up one verse, it gives you the greater context of the fact that the people who are not Muslim are condemned to hell, by those prayers and so I basically showed that. So my point isn’t that the imam was deliberately inflammatory — my point was that it’s inflammatory even when they’re not trying to, because it goes to the issue of the fundamental and irreconcilable difference between Islamic orientation and a non-Muslim orientation.”
The prayer isn’t the only thing upsetting families. Karen Vaughn said she and other families were stunned upon receiving the bodies in Dover, Delaware, when the 38 caskets were “paraded” with equal honor.
What’s more, the bodies of all those lost were cremated and the individuals were identified based on DNA and dental records.
“Is it possible that one or more of our sons, that my son, came home under the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s flag all for the very guise of appeasement? The very thought fills my heart with more anger and pain than I could possibly express,” she said.
The families are now seeking a congressional investigation and will be pursing some sort of legal action on their own as well.
“Something is wrong,” Strange said. “We need a congressional inquiry. Somebody has to be accountable for the biggest loss in this war.
Watch this local report with some footage from the press conference: