Hearing About Deadly Afghan Attack Provides Answers, Not Closure

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In Plato’s The Republic, the warriors of the perfect society described in the book are taken in for training at a very young age and allowed to have no attachments or possessions. The purpose was, in part, to disassociate the warriors from the emotional core of the society. When the time came to die in battle, they would do so willingly and the rest of society would have to understand the necessity of that sacrifice. In America, our warriors are just the opposite. There is no question that they are our heroic sons and daughters, and the loss of any single service member — with the right kind of attention — can bring the country to a halt.

So, when one incident, according to Stars and Stripes, “constitutes the greatest loss of American life from a single battle in the history of the Afghan War,” it is bound to capture the country’s attention and emotions. There were many questions surrounding the incident. Some were easily dismissed. Questions were raised about the “black box” going missing, but according to the Army, the CH-47 Chinook helicopters are not outfitted with those devices. Other concerns, however, are more troubling.

Of the 38 people killed in the 2011 attack, only 30 were Americans. The other eight were Afghan soldiers also participating in the mission. Claims, many by family members of the fallen Americans, have been made that the enemy was acting on inside information about the mission passed along by an Afghan soldier. When a list of names was released for Afghan soldiers deployed with an Army Ranger unit instead of those killed in the crash, it only fanned the flames of conspiracy.

In a recent hearing in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, witnesses testified on this and other concerns. Garry Reid, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict, testified that the mission was not “compromised” and that “sound tactics” were used in the planning. It seems that the enemy was simply on a state of heightened alert after an attack by Army Rangers a few hours earlier, according to the Washington Free Beacon. He also said there was “no possibility” that tactical information had been delivered to the Taliban.

Another criticism was the use of the Chinook CH-47 helicopter instead of newer models with “high-tech avionics” that might have been able to avoid the RPG attack that felled the Chinook. The reasons offered here wear a little thin, with Reid saying that because it was a short flight over familiar terrain, the use of the Chinook “was appropriate.”

After the bodies were reclaimed by U.S. and Afghan forces, a memorial ceremony was held by both. An Afghan colonel spoke, and there are conflicting reports about what he said. Reid insists that his words honored the fallen and condemned the enemy. Others, however, think differently. According to The Blaze, lawyer for some of the families Larry Klayman said, “A Muslim clerk [sic] damned the bodies, the memories of our clients’ sons to hell as infidels.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chair of the Oversight Committee, took Reid to task for this joint ceremony. Since no one at the hearing spoke Farsi, they had to rely on different translations, the government’s suggesting that it was a simple blessing honoring all of the fallen soldiers. Still, the very concept of the joint ceremony bothered Chaffetz. “Of course we’re going to honor [all] those who lost their lives, but let’s do it separately.” According to The Blaze, Chaffetz’s voice was “cracking from tears” when he said, “I don’t want some Afghan saying something about my son.”

Therein lies the problem with much of the controversy surrounding this horrific tragedy. Despite the fact that Chaffetz’s son is not in the military, Chaffetz (and some of the military families) think it is unacceptable for “some Afghan” to honor their fallen family members. Of course, they are dealing with deep emotional losses, and it is easy to lash out at anyone who simply “looks” like the enemy.

While Afghan soldiers were not always properly vetted, the ones that were are just as likely to form the “war bond” with those American soldiers. There is every possibility that they relied on those Afghan soldiers just as much as they relied on other members in their unit. It is for this reason that the Committee’s decision to accept only written testimony from the family members was appropriate.

The current tension between President Barack Obama and President Hamid Karzai seems to be an extension of proof that our relationship with Afghanistan is “Us and Them” and not “We.” In light of Reid’s testimony, it seems that it was simply a case of the enemy getting off a lucky shot. While that may not do much for emotional closure, it tells an important story about what happened that tragic day.