The families of some of the 17 SEAL Team 6 commandos who were killed in an ambush in Afghanistan during a helicopter flight to help Army Rangers pinned down by Taliban gunmen accused the Obama administration of deliberately endangering their loved ones for political ends.
Now a highly decorated, retired Air Force officer is coming forward, breaking her silence to speak out on what she witnessed in one of the deadliest attacks on Navy SEALs in U.S. history. Her testimony details how the government covered up evidence in the 2011 downing of a Chinook helicopter gunship that killed a total of 38 military personnel in Afghanistan and how the attack that took so many lives could have been prevented if it were not for the restrictions to the military’s rules of engagement instituted under the Obama administration.
On August 6, 2011, Air Force Capt. Joni Marquez was working along with her crew in the early morning hours before sunrise while aboard an AC-130 gunship when they were summoned to a mission in what she describes as “almost like a 9-1-1 type of a situation.”
The gunship received orders to fly close-in air support above Afghanistan’s dangerous Tangi Valley, in Wardak Province. They were to assist troops with the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment who were under heavy fire by eight heavily armed Taliban insurgents. The Rangers had put in a call for assault helicopters to engage the enemy to draw them out of their hiding place in the rocky valley. They believed the insurgents were all killed after the air weapons team fired on the Taliban fighters. They were wrong.
Marquez states of the events that unfolded afterward – “I had the sensor operators immediately shift to the eight insurgents the helicopters had taken out. Two were still alive. We had seen two of them (insurgents) moving, crawling away from the area, as to not really make a whole lot of scene.”
She was the fire control officer aboard the AC-130 gunship and her job was to make sure the sensors and weapons aligned allowing the crew to hone in on targets for accuracy in firing. However, that night it did not matter because the gunship had not received permission to fire.
As she monitored the scene from above she detailed the scene to the ground force commander – “You have two enemy forces that are still alive. Permission to engage,” she asked. They were denied.
Marquez details in excruciating and painful detail how the ground commander’s refusal to grant her crew permission to engage the two enemy fighters sealed their fate. As a result, 38 people died in Extortion 17. She and her team could do little more than track the two enemy insurgents with the surveillance equipment. She and her team watched on helplessly as the two moved through an open field and made their way to a village for reinforcements.
Meanwhile, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, was called into lengthy firefight. Marquez explained – “If we would’ve been allowed to engage that night, we would’ve taken out those two men immediately. They continued to essentially gain more and more force behind them because they just kept knocking on doors and the two personnel that initially fled ended up becoming a group of 12 people.”
Instead, a Taliban fighter shot a grenade from a rocket launcher hitting the Chinook. It sent the helicopter in a downward spin where it eventually crashed and killed everyone on board. 38 people died including thirty Americans and eight Afghans. Of those 38 dead, 17 were Navy SEALs. 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 – long considered to be the mastermind behind the September 11, 2011 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.
Marquez believes that had her team been allowed to engage and return fire, those 38 deaths could have been prevented. Pleas and warnings from her crew to turn the Chinook back or cancel their mission went unheeded. She explained that by the time Extortion 17 came in confusion ruled the day, stating – “Whenever we reached out to the Joint Operations Center, they would essentially just push back with, ‘Find a, a good infill location. Find a good helicopter landing zone.’”
She explained that one of the hardest things she had to do in her entire military career was to be forced to simply watch from her infrared monitor as one of the SEALs was ejected from the burning Chinook helicopter and his heat signature faded from red to blue. She stated – “We had to sit and watch that, and I think that was one of the hardest things that I had to do. That man was, you know, dying on the ground.”
Marquez describes the pain of the aftermath of living with what happened and the toll it has taken. She is in active therapy as a result and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. She tearfully explains – “If we would’ve been allowed to engage that night, we would’ve taken out those two men immediately. I mean, it’s just one of those things where you know that it could’ve all been prevented.”
Her retelling of the events as they unfolded that night is corroborated by a previously top-secret report compiled by the Defense Department inspector general. The report includes interviews with many of Marquez’s colleagues on the gunship, including the commander.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense for Intelligence and was a commander in the Army’s super-secret “Delta Force,” denounced politicized rules of engagement as a “deliberate plot” within the American armed forces that he says puts political correctness above the safety of the troops. He stated – “We’ve allowed politics to become more important than the lives and safety of those men and women.”
The rules of engagement on the battlefield were tightened by Gen. Stanley McCrystal under former President Obama’s leadership in 2009. The official reason cited was an “overreliance on firepower and force protection” with the idea that this would reduce civilian casualties and win the cooperation of locals. Except according to Marquez it didn’t. The rules regarding when to engage the enemy were continuously changing depending on who was in charge and those rules prevented her crew from effectively doing what was necessary.
Marquez stated – “Ridiculous rules of engagement that basically state that you can’t shoot until being shot upon. A weapon has to be pointed, and essentially fired at you, in order for you to shoot and you have the proper clearance so that you don’t, you know, go to jail, that you’re charged with a war crime.”
Senior legal advocate for U.S. Special Forces Jeffery Addicott is considered an expert in rules of engagement with 20 years of experience describes Marquez’s story as one of the most tragic regarding U.S. troops under enemy fire. He explains that all these unrealistic rules do is tie the hands of military personnel and endanger lives.
Addicott states – “In Afghanistan, we had rules of engagement that became more restrictive the longer we stayed. Right now, the rules of engagement are absolutely bizarre. Law of war, if you do or you suspected that someone was an enemy combatant, they had a weapon, they were carrying it openly, you could kill them before they shot at you.”
He is now pushing for congressional oversight of the Department of Defense’s rules of engagement so as to prevent a repeat of this level of tragedy. He believes placating foreign governments at the expense of American lives became a death sentence some military personnel. Overly restrictive rules of engagement do nothing to help those fighting the war win. They are simply the work of bureaucrats enforced against military personnel under political pressure from host nations.
Examples of some of the unclassified rules of engagement for Afghanistan are as follows –
- No night or surprise searches
- Villagers warned prior to searches
- U.S. units on searches
- U.S. soldiers may not fire at the enemy unless the enemy is preparing to fire first
- Afghan National Army or Afghan National Police must accompany
- U.S. forces cannot engage the enemy if civilians are present
- Troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch them placing an IED, but not if they’re walking away from placing an IED.
- Only engage an enemy fighter if you see a weapon, and they’ve fired first
Addicott states – “Under our current rules of engagement, you cannot shoot them until they shoot at you first. Now many people — of course people on the ground, the military soldiers — they know that this is a recipe for disaster and so, we basically have these rules that are made by the president.”
Marquez agrees with Addicott’s assessment and hopes her revelations of what actually occurred on the night Extortion 17 crashed will bring change that saves lives. She states – “I won’t rest until some kind of justice is served, in a manner of either, you know, the people that were responsible for that night, for making those calls, come forward and are honest about it. I know that’s kind of a lofty goal but, if that’s something that doesn’t happen, then obviously the ROE’s to change, for them to be realistic.”
Many family members of the fallen 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 about that fateful night in Tangi Valley. They wonder why a fighter just happened to be stationed in a turret within 150 yards of a landing zone that had never been used before. Yet the Defense Department special operations official continues to maintain there is no indication the mission was compromised by the Afghans.
Family members enlisted legal watchdog group, Freedom Watch led by attorney Larry Klayman in an effort to force new disclosures using the power of the FOIA process. Klayman speaks of how he has repeatedly been “stonewalled” by the Justice Department, the Defense Department, the CIA and the National Security Agency.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon signed an order requiring documents be released on a continual basis through the spring and summer. The Justice Department said at least 50 documents in the Pentagon have been identified as relevant, but only one has been turned over. The DOJ unilaterally set a new deadline for the release and then ignored their own deadline. Klayman also stated DOJ attorneys will not take his phone calls. He states – “They don’t even produce under their own self-imposed deadline. We’re pleading with the judge to do something, and he’s just sitting on it.”
GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy takes a shot at the special counsel probe while questioning FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: “Whatever you got, finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart” https://t.co/QfDYDOYSKS
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 28, 2018
As has become abundantly clear during the last several years the U.S. government is spending a significant amount of time and resources covering up the truth on many things from the American people. Things like the current FISA abuses, spying, Benghazi, the NSA, and a vast number of other incidents. It seems that a FOIA request no longer accomplishes what it was set up to accomplish – there is no “freedom of information” any longer. The government purposely delays or conceals documents in an effort to give time to redact and to delete things they do not want the American public to become aware of.
One wonders if the end result will be the same with current fictional witchhunt into so-called Russian collusion. As Rep. Trey Gowdy said recently when questioning FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – “Whatever you got, finish it the hell up because this country is being torn apart”