Rules of Engagement (ROE). The term has meant different things to different US Administrations. The Obama Administration’s ROE may have been the reason that 38 men -most of whom were from SEAL Team 6- and a Military dog named Bart lost their lives in a Chinook helicopter over Afghanistan in 2011. The incident was referred to by the helicopter’s call sign: Extortion 17.
The ROE factor, August 6, 2011
On April 18, Circa published an interview with now retired Air Force Captain Joni Marquez. She was the Fire Control Officer aboard an AC-130 gunship that day.
When Army Rangers called in for Apache air support to engage Taliban fighters lurking in the rocky valley, only 8 of the insurgents were killed in the assault. Two of them were still alive.
But when Marquez requested permission from the ground force commander to fire on the remaining insurgents, she was denied.
“You have two enemy forces that are still alive. Permission to engage.”
The commander denied that permission. Why? ROEs.
“There was little left to do for Marquez and her team but simply track the two enemy insurgents with the surveillance equipment. She watched as the two moved tactically through the open field, making their way to a village where they began to rally more fighters.
Meanwhile, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, was called into the hours-long firefight.”
Her team warned the Chinook not to come in, to turn back or cancel the mission, but their warnings went unheeded.
As Marquez and her team watched, what began as two men became 12.
“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’…by the time Extortion 17 was coming in, everything was mired in confusion.” Captain Joni Marquez
When one of the Taliban launched a rocket propelled grenade at the Chinook helicopter carrying 30 American servicemen, (17 of them Navy SEALs) 8 Afghan Special Forces (that’s contested) and an MWD dog named Bart, their fate was sealed. Thirty eight deaths because ground command didn’t want to eliminate the remaining Taliban.
Captain Marquez, now retired, remembers with horror watching the deaths on her monitor as the life drained from them, moving from red to blue. It has been a lasting image in her mind for which she has been in therapy. Her recollection was corroborated by members of the AC-130 crew and their commander in a previously top secret report.
“If we would’ve been allowed to engage that night, we would’ve taken out those two men immediately. I mean, it’s just one of those things where you know that it could’ve all been prevented.” Captain Marquez
The overly restrictive ROEs ensconced by the Obama administration are to blame for the deaths on Extortion 17. The ROEs changed 4 times during the Obama era, becoming more and more restrictive with regards to dealing with the enemy. Those rules prevented the air strike team from eliminating the threat.
The families of SEAL Team 6 want the President to change those rules.
The official Pentagon report stated there were no “eyes in the sky,” that the drone was out and there was no satellite coverage and the AC-130 wasn’t paying attention to the Chinook. They reportedly cremated the bodies of the dead without permission. They said the black box was missing, which was the subject of conflicting reports.
The presence of Afghan Special Forces on board Extortion 17 is hotly contested. Some reports say they were jerked off the flight before it left, yet left on the manifest, leaving the possibility that they warned the Taliban that the helo was coming in. What really happened that day on board the helicopter or before it took off?
There are some circumstances that we will likely never know, but one thing is extremely clear: the deaths of the people on board Extortion 17 could have been prevented. And their blood cries out from the ground…blood that remains on the hands of the Obama administration.
Featured photo: screenshot – remains of Extortion 17 helicopter at crash site