In a story that has remained largely under the mainstream media radar, Congress announced late last month that it would finally investigate the Aug. 6, 2011 helicopter crash in Afghanistan that resulted in 38 deaths, including 22 members of SEAL Team 6, made famous three months earlier when they killed Osama Bin Laden. Grieving family members insist that soldiers in the elite unit were placed in unnecessary danger by the recklessness of the Obama administration, whose actions they characterized as criminal. “We’re going to dive into this," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security.
The families of the slain soldiers have every right to be furious. SEAL Team 6 is a covert unit whose operations are ostensibly classified. As a result, it has never been revealed which members of the team were involved in the killing of the terrorist mastermind, or how many of those same men were among those killed when the Chinook helicopter in which they were traveling was shot down by Taliban terrorists.
The focus of the families' fury and shock, along with that of SEAL Team 6 members themselves, was the administration's desire to tout their success in killing Bin Laden -- compromising the safety of the unit in the process. Only two days after the raid, Vice President Biden gave a speech at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. “Let me briefly acknowledge tonight’s distinguished honorees: Adm. Jim Stavridis is a -- is the real deal; he could tell you more about and understands the incredible, the phenomenal, the just almost unbelievable capacity of his Navy SEALS and what they did last -- last Sunday,” Mr. Biden revealed to audience members gathered for the 50th anniversary of the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank.
What followed was a testament to Biden’s disturbing ability to speak before thinking. “And what was even more extraordinary was -- and I’m sure former administration officials will appreciate this more than anyone -- there was such an absolute, overwhelming desire to accomplish this mission that although for over several months we were in the process of planning it, and there were as many as 16 members of Congress who were briefed on it, not a single, solitary thing leaked. I find that absolutely amazing,” Biden added, apparently oblivious to the reality that he had just perpetrated one of the more egregious leaks of national security information in recent history.
As a result, SEAL Team 6 members realized they had a target painted on their backs. That reality was hammered home in a May 10, 2013 Fox News interview with Karen and Billy Vaughn, whose son Aaron was killed in the chopper crash. Karen spoke first. “As soon as Joe Biden announced that it was a SEAL Team who took out Bin Laden, within 24 hours, my son called me and I rarely ever heard him sound afraid in his adult life….He said, ‘Mom, you need to wipe your social media clean…your life is in danger, our lives are in danger, so clean it up right now'," she revealed.
Billy Vaughn took on Biden in no uncertain terms. “The media has let this man get away with saying ‘Uncle Joe’s gaffes, Uncle Joe's gaffes," he fumed. "This is not Uncle Joe and he’s not some senile old grandfather. He is the second in command of the most powerful country in the world and he needs to take responsibility for the comments he makes and quit being given a pass.”
Charles Strange, the father of slain SEAL Michael Strange, was also furious. During a family conference with reporters at the National Press Club in Washington a day earlier, Strange recounted his exchange with President Obama at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Aug. 9, 2011. Strange noted that, despite Obama saying he would look "very, very, very deep into this,” he never heard from the president again. In an exchange with radio host Michael Savage last month, Strange took it one step further. He claimed his son told him, “Something’s going on with the team. Somebody’s leaking things out. Something’s going on.” Savage asked: “Your son knew he was being sent to his death?” Strange's response was chilling. “They knew,” he answered. “They knew something was up. Every one of them.”
The military has provided more than 1,000 pages of documentation to the parents. Those documents contain the Defense Department's assertion that they don't believe the SEALs were targeted following the Bin Laden operation. Moreover in a transcript, a Defense Department official disputes the families' assertion that the helicopter was brought down by an “established ambush,” contending it was "a lucky shot of a low-level fighter" who "happened to be in the right spot."
The families aren't buying that assessment, and they are extremely troubled by other questions surrounding the case as well. Of the 38 people killed in the crash, seven were members of the Afghan National Army. They were replaced at the last minute by other Afghan military officials who were not on the flight manifest, raising the possibility the replacements were Taliban infiltrators.
The military claimed that when the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down, the bodies were badly burned and had to be cremated. Charles Strange believes the military is lying. “I saw Mike’s dead body,” he said in an interview. “It was clearly recognizable. He was clutching his gun. He wasn’t burned to a crisp. Why did they cremate my boy? They didn’t need to do that. Something’s not right.” Rep. Chaffetz, who said he saw a photo of a deceased SEAL, echoed that assertion. “The body I saw didn’t need to be cremated,” he said.
The military claims the helicopter's black box was never recovered because it was washed away in a flash flood. Yet flash floods in that area of Afghanistan are extremely rare.
Furthermore, the families want to know why their sons were flown into a hot combat zone in a helicopter made in the 1960s. They want to know why such a large group of SEALS was put on a single aircraft and why no aerial backup was deployed, which is standard military procedure when special forces are involved. And they want to know why, during a funeral ceremony held at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, a Muslim cleric was allowed to recite a prayer condemning the American "infidels" to eternal damnation.
Yet perhaps the most damnable reality of all was revealed by Karen Vaughn at the aforementioned National Press Club meeting. "Why was there no pre-assault fire? We were told as families that pre-assault fire damages our effort to win the hearts and minds of our enemy," she told reporters. "So in other words, the hearts and minds of our enemy are more valuable to this government than my son's blood."
This was not the first time the Vaughn family has challenged the so-called Rules of Engagement (ROE) that make a mockery of American soldiers' ability to conduct effective warfare. Three days after Benghazi, they were among several Gold Star families of servicemen lost in combat who held a press conference on the subject. It was there the Vaughns made it known that after their son's helicopter went down, air support refused to fire on the enemy because there might have been "friendlies" in the building. The ROE required the military present at the operation to stand down as a result. Billy Vaughn was incensed. "Our military men go to war because they love what is behind them more than they hate what is in front of them," he said at the time. "The least the government can do is give them the tools and the proper equipment and ROE that favor our warriors more than they favor our enemy."
The least the government can do at the present time is conduct a thorough investigation into the the largest loss of life in a single day since the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan began. Freedom Watch is assisting some of the families of the deceased. Founder Larry Klayman minced no words regarding what he thinks about this tragedy. “This is a scandal even greater than Benghazi,” he said. “There we lost four valued American lives; here we sacrificed 30 American soldiers. The big question is were these brave Americans sold out by the Afghani government as payment to the Taliban for the death of bin Laden?”
Perhaps a bigger question is why the Obama administration can get away with the monumental hypocrisy of being the administration that has prosecuted more leakers than any other, while Joe Biden gets a pass. Republicans need to find answers to the many questions above. Our troops and their families deserve nothing less than a full accounting of this tragic incident.
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