More than two years after President Obama reassured the father of a member of SEAL Team 6 that the government would look into the death of his son, the father is still waiting for a response, and his suspicions are growing.
On Aug. 9, 2011, Taliban forces were waiting for a Chinook helicopter carrying members of the elite unit SEAL Team 6 to approach its landing site. The helicopter was attacked from three sides in a coordinated ambush.
Although it was known Taliban forces were in the area, the SEALs did not have the air cover that was a standard procedure for missions of that type. During the ambush, the Chinook was reportedly shot down by a shoulder-fired missile, killing all 38 people on board, including 25 American special operations personnel, five U.S. Army National Guard and Army Reserve crewmen, a U.S. military dog, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter.
Charles Strange, whose son Michael was killed in the ambush, said in a meeting with President Obama after the attack he whispered in the president’s ear to ask him if there would be a congressional investigation into the death of his son. Obama whispered back, “We will look very, very, very, deep into this.”
However, more than two years after the attack, the families are still waiting for answers, and they now have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to find out what happened. The lawsuit is being handled by Larry Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch and now Freedom Watch, who is also a former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor.
The suit is asking for $200 million in damages against Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for revealing that SEAL Team 6 carried out the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. Also named as defendants are the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is alleged to have tipped the Taliban off about the coordinates of the Extortion 17 operation.
Despite the amount of damages sought, Klayman says the issue is not about the money but rather to ensure that the rules of engagement and other events leading up to the ambush are changed to protect soldiers in the field.
‘We do want answers’
“While we do want answers, we also want the rules of engagement changed to ensure that their sons did not die in vain,” Klayman said. “The military and the administration should have known better. They should have known that SEAL Team 6 was a target because they made them a target.”
Among the current rules of engagement are orders not to fire unless specifically fire upon. The reasoning behind the order is that the military is there to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
The downing of the helicopter came just months after SEAL Team 6 conducted the raid that killed bin Laden. Normally, when operations of that nature are conducted, the identities of the units involved are kept classified for operational security. However, following the bin Laden raid, Vice President Joe Biden and the administration confirmed that SEAL Team 6 members had conducted the operation.
After the leaking of their identity by Biden, members of SEAL Team 6 became concerned for their safety and the safety of their family members.
Aaron Vaughn, a member of the team who would eventually be killed on that Aug. 6, warned his mother to delete every reference to SEAL Team 6 from her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“I never heard Aaron this concerned and worried in his entire life,” Mrs. Vaughn said in an interview. “He called me and said, ‘Mom, you and Dad have to take everything down. Biden has just put a huge target on everybody.’”
Charles Strange said his son Michael, a Special Forces serviceman with the unit, also had premonitions about his impending death after Biden’s leak of their identity.
“Michael was home in June, and he talked to us, saying he was worried and felt he needed to update his will,” Strange said. “My son already had a will that was filled out long before this, so why would he suddenly bring it up again? It was almost as if he knew something was going to happen to him. They labeled those men; the question is, why did they do it?”
Several circumstances surrounding the crash also have raised disturbing questions for the family members.
Among their questions are why seven Afghan commandos on the flight suddenly were replaced just before takeoff. The seven individuals, who also died in the attack, are not listed in the flight manifest. This has caused some of the family members to speculate that they may have been suicide bombers or may have tipped off the Taliban.
When asked if they believed the attack possibly was an inside job, several family members responded in the affirmative.
Billy Vaughn, father of killed Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn, told WND that “yes,” he believed it was an inside job.
Doug Hamburger, whose son Patrick was a flight engineer and gunner with the SEALs, said that at the very least, he believed Afghan president Hamid Karzai tipped off the Taliban.
Strange went even further, saying he believed there was collaboration between the U.S. and Afghan governments to shoot down the helicopter.
“I believe the Afghan administration and someone on their side definitely made a deal with somebody on our side. It says in the investigation report that back in May the military knew the Taliban was in that location with the intent of shooting down an American helicopter. Knowing this why were they sent in without air cover?”
The official explanation by the U.S. military is that the Chinook was struck by a shoulder-fired missile, which caused the helicopter to explode, burning everyone beyond recognition.
However, there are several things that have caused the family to doubt the official explanation that it was simply a “lucky shot,” as Army investigators declared.
“I don’t want to hear about it being a lucky shot, a lucky shot would’ve been a clean miss,” Strange said.
Following the ambush, the Army ordered the remains of everyone on the helicopter cremated, they were simply unrecognizable.
However, Michael Strange’s body apparently showed no sign of being burned by the explosion from the missile. His father obtained a copy of Michael’s autopsy report and photographs of his body and said there was no sign of fire damage.
“There’s nothing wrong with the body except for his ankle, but they claimed everybody was burned beyond recognition, yet there he was lying there whole and intact,” Strange said. “His hair and arms weren’t burned, and there was no sign of smoke in his lungs. When I called the command up and asked them about this they seem shocked that I had the photo. They told me ‘we’ll get back to you,’ but they never did.”
‘We’ll get back to you’
“Why did they cremate my boy? We are Christians and do not believe in cremation; there was no reason for them to do that,” Strange said.
Eyebrows also were raised when a Muslim imam was invited by the Obama administration to pray over the fallen soldiers. During the prayer, the imam reportedly recited a prayer from the Quran that damned the fallen warriors to hell for being infidels. The ceremony did not feature any similar prayer from a Christian chaplain.
Another strange occurrence about the ambush is that the evidence that would reveal how the helicopter was shot down has gone missing.
The Chinook’s black box never was recovered. The military claims a rare flash flood came through the area and washed the box away. However, aircraft black boxes are designed to take that kind of punishment and have even been recovered from the ocean floor.
Another piece of evidence missing is any recording of the explosion by an aerial drone in the area. Hamburger said the military provided the men involved in missions of that kind with a variety of assets in the air.
“When they go out on an operation like this, the military normally has a stack of protection above them that includes two Apache helicopters, a C-130 and a drone to help see what is going on. When the men of Extortion 17 flew into that valley, they did not have a stack over them.
“We were told, and it is in the official report that the ‘eye in the sky,’ meaning the camera on the drone, was inoperative during the time the Chinook was shot down,” Hamburger said. “Yet we have two soldiers, including one of my son’s friends, who told us they saw Extortion 17 get shot down from the cameras on that drone at one of the other forward operating bases. We would really like to see that footage and have it handed over to an expert who could analyze it to see the sequence of how the helicopter was exploded and what happened.”
Hamburger says even more amazingly, he was told the problem with the footage somehow resolved itself later during the ambush after the helicopter was shot down.
“We asked if the camera was not working why was the drone still in the area rather than being sent back to base. They told us the problem with the camera was not an ongoing issue, but was simply a glitch that happened at the exact time Extortion 17 was shot down.”
‘We don’t know what happened”
Klayman said while he understands tragic things happen in war, by refusing to answer legitimate questions by family members the government is acting like it has something to hide.
“Over two years after Extortion 17 was shot down, the families still have these unanswered questions. All of this raises the distinct possibility of a cover-up as to what really happened. We don’t know what happened and none of these answers are forthcoming.”
Hamburger said while any individual could be dismissed if taken alone, but together they suggest a cover-up.
“You sit there and add up the score and what you have is a case where the black box is missing, the eye in the sky is out, and there was no support aircraft in the area. Everything you typically do for safety and to help out the helicopter and crew is non-existent. Additionally, all of the things you would need to take a look at what happened has disappeared. All you have is a downed aircraft and a bunch of dead soldiers.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is among elected officials who are demanding answers. He and his subcommittee on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are investigating the crash.