CT| Navy SEALs received national attention for two very different events in 2011. The first was the mission that killed infamous terrorist Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. The second incident was much more tragic.
In August of 2011, a crash of a helicopter gunship in Afghanistan killed all 38 people on board, including 17 SEALs. Known by the call sign “Extortion 17,” the event resulted in the greatest loss of American military lives in a single incident during the war in Afghanistan.
Now, a retired Air Force officer is speaking out about Extortion 17 — and according to her account, much of the blame for those deaths lies squarely on the Obama administration.
Retired Air Force Capt. Joni Marquez served aboard an AC-130 “Spectre” gunship on the fateful day. According to Circa.com, the fixed-wing aircraft had been ordered to fly close air support for Army Rangers who were engaged in a firefight with Taliban insurgents on the ground in Afghanistan.
The Rangers called in supporting fire from nearby assault helicopters, who engaged the Taliban. Many of the enemy force were killed, but vitally, a handful survived.
“I had the sensor operators immediately shift to the eight insurgents the helicopters had taken out,” Capt. Marquez explained to Circa, in her first interview regarding those events. “Two were still alive.”
As the fire control officer on the Spectre aircraft, Marquez’s job was to coordinate the detailed sensors with the powerful weapons, and ensure that the crew was properly targeting the correct points on the ground.
From the air, the AC-130 crew could detect that some of the armed insurgents were still alive and were likely going for reinforcements.
“We had seen two of them (insurgents) moving, crawling away from the area, as to not really make a whole lot of scene,” Marquez remembered. She passed that information to the ground commander. “You have two enemy forces that are still alive,” she said. “Permission to engage.”
Shockingly, that request was denied.
Instead of being allowed to engage the remaining insurgents, Joni Marquez and the crew of the AC-130 watched them move through a field and enter a village, where they quickly alerted more Taliban fighters.
At the same time, the doomed “Extortion 17” Chinook helicopter was entering the area. The elite troops it carried were intended to back up the Rangers on the ground. Its 38 occupants didn’t make it out of the Chinook alive.
According to the U.S. military’s official investigation, a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade hit the American helicopter and brought it down violently. There were no survivors.
Capt. Marquez believes that those 38 deaths might have been prevented by one thing: Taking out the Taliban stragglers before they could rally more men.
“They continued to essentially gain more and more force behind them because they just kept knocking on doors” in the village, she explained. “And the two personnel that initially fled ended up becoming a group of 12 people.”
The officers aboard the circling AC-130 tried multiple times to warn the approaching Chinook about the dangerous ground situation, Marquez said, but those communications were all but ignored by higher command.
“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,” Marquez recalled.
Instead, the Chinook moved into the Taliban’s crosshairs and was brought down by an RPG. Marquez watched from the air as Americans died, including a SEAL who was thrown from the wreckage.
“We had to sit and watch that, and I think that was one of the hardest things that I had to do,” she said. “That man was, you know, dying on the ground.”
The retired officer is adamant that all 38 of Extortion 17’s deaths were preventable.
“If we would’ve been allowed to engage that night, we would’ve taken out those two men immediately,” she stated. “I mean, it’s just one of those things where you know that it could’ve all been prevented.”
Why was the American gunship told to stand down while the threat escaped? Marquez points squarely to the rules of engagement that were put in place under Barack Obama.
“Ridiculous rules of engagement that basically state that you can’t shoot until being shot upon,” Marquez said. “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.”
Those restrictive rules of engagement applied even for known combatants, such as the Taliban fighters, which were permitted to rally more forces from the Afghan village.
“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,” Marquez said.
She concluded, “I know that’s kind of a lofty goal but, if that’s something that doesn’t happen, then obviously the [rules of engagement] to change, for them to be realistic.”
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