“Before there was Benghazi, there was Extortion 17.” These are the chilling opening words spoken by Billy Vaughn, the broken-hearted father of Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn. Aaron was one of 17 Navy SEALs, almost 30 American servicemen in total, killed when their antiquated Chinook helicopter was shot down during a raging battle in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. To have lost their sons in war is tragic enough; but as they discovered the very dubious circumstances surrounding the operation and the subsequent deception and cover-up by the military under the Obama administration, a truly gut-wrenching and highly suspicious picture emerged. Several families of the fallen, military experts, elected representatives, and concerned others held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on May 9th, 2013.
Larry Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, calls Extortion 17 “perhaps the biggest disaster since 9-11 as far as Naval and Special Ops operations.” Before the dust had even settled on the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, President Obama and Vice President Biden revealed the classified identities of SEAL Team 6 and other servicemen; and as a result, these men “literally had targets on their backs.” Three months later, these men and others were sent in on archaic outdated equipment without support and ambushed.
“We demand to know who sent our sons into hostile territory where evidence proves a shoot-down attempt had been in full force for weeks, in less than adequate, antiquated airframes documented to be in very poor condition,” declares Karen Vaughn, Aaron’s mother. “We also demand to know who made the call to mix conventional aircraft and forces with Special Warfare Operations.”
Charles Strange, father of fallen Navy SEAL Michael Strange, says, “Michael knew what he was getting into. Michael knew what he was fighting for. Michael knew that someday he might have to give the ultimate sacrifice. But not like this. To put my son and the most elite SEAL team in the world in a Chinook helicopter over an active battle that’s going on for three and a half hours? Unacceptable! Somebody has to answer for this.”
Here are the heart-wrenching details of the labyrinth that is Extortion 17:
- The servicemen were put in a slow helicopter that is never used for combat operations, built in the early 1960s and last retrofitted in 1985, with no answer as to who made that decision.
- The helicopters they would normally have used and that they had trained with their entire careers were not available because under Obama, the pace of Special Operations aviation climbed from an average of 56 per month in 2009 to a break-neck 334 per month in 2011.
- The mission was considered to be so dangerous that the decision had to be made from a commander out of theater. Yet still it is not known, even after an investigation that yielded a 1200 page report, what commander made the call or why.
- The Tangeen Valley in Afghanistan was known to be a hotbed of insurgent forces, and U.S. Intelligence knew that there were one hundred or more enemy forces gathering there that night intending to shoot down American forces. As early as May 11, they knew that SEAL Team 6 was going to be targeted, but did not share this information with the appropriate people.
- The flight manifest was changed at the last minute, removing seven Afghani security force members who had been slated to fly. In fact, there is still some uncertainty as to who was on the flight.
- The men were flown in unescorted and dropped into a battle that had already been going on for over three hours, without any suppressive fire support.
- Even in the pitch black, General Colt told the families they could see two men on the rooftop. “They call up the Afghan administration to find out at two o’clock in the morning what these guys are doing on the building,” Charles Strange explains. “You know what they told them? ‘They’re hanging crops.’” At 2am on a rooftop?
- The Chinook was shot down by Afghanis who were waiting for it in the perfect position and at the perfect time to strike when the aircraft was its most vulnerable, during landing.
- “Perhaps the most disturbing piece of evidence that Billy and I came across in our search for truth was uncovering the fact that the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, and the Afghan Security Ministry have been and still are involved in the planning of every single stage of every single Special Operation that takes place in that country. And yes, these plans include flight routes and landing zones,” says Karen Vaughn.
- The “eye-in-the-sky” predator feed over the area was turned off. It took the military ten minutes to figure out which aircraft had been shot down.
- American forces were not permitted to take out the attackers. The families were told that new Rules of Engagement dictated that we couldn’t shoot down any attacker even after being attacked because, as one high-ranking admiral put it to Billy Vaughn, “We want to win their hearts and minds.” Karen says, “We were recently told by a Special Forces operator that under the current ROE’s if the enemy fires on you, then runs back behind a rock, when he pops his head up from behind the rock you’re not allowed to engage him unless you can verify that he has not laid his gun down. In other words, you must be fired on twice now or your actions will be questioned by your government when you try to defend yourself or the lives of your teammates.”
- To add desecration to injury, the standard ramp ceremony at Bagram Air Base was presided over by an imam who gave a prayer damning the fallen to hell before their remains were sent home. No priest, pastor, or rabbi gave any prayer or said any words. Klayman says, “The funeral that was held in Kabul where you couldn’t even mention the name of our lord and savior Jesus Christ, but yet a Muslim cleric gets up and damns these fallen heroes to hell as infidels. Unbelievable that our military brass would allow this to happen!” And whereas it is standard practice that all parents of the fallen are given a transcript from the military of that ceremony, the families of Extortion 17 were not.
- In classified meetings, elected officials were lied to about Extortion 17 by top military brass. The families were lied to by these and other military officials. “When we were first visited by one of the highest level admirals in our nation [Admiral William McCraven] on January 4th…the most shocking thing we experienced is that he lied to us so continuously that if we had not studied our documentation and known the truth he would have made a mockery of everything our sons died to represent. It got to be actually embarrassing.”
- The families were told that the chopper’s “black box” was “blown away in the flood” and was supposedly never recovered. A flood? “In Afghanistan?” Charles Strange asks, exasperated.
- “They told me my son had to be cremated, everybody had to be cremated,” Charles says, weeping. “I called the commander: ‘Why did you cremate my son? My son didn’t want to be cremated! I’ve got pictures of him. When I asked for the autopsy report from Dover they sent me a disc with pictures. He’s sitting there fighting! ‘Everybody was burned beyond recognition.’ No, everybody wasn’t burned beyond recognition! Another lie!”
- No Afghani officials were involved in the investigation of the shoot-down, even though they are involved in the planning of every mission and were consulted during the mission.
- When asked how they assessed the crash, our military revealed that all sorts of support materialized. They told the families, “We had 30 planes to assess the crash. We had Black Hawks, we had Pathfinders, we had 140 men go in.” Yet there had been no air or other support for the men as they flew in.
“As we searched we became tragically aware that perhaps the cruelest, most deceitful acts of this administration have been perpetrated against the very ones fighting and dying to protect and defend it,” Karen says.
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