"If you’ve seen the recent big screen stories of US Navy SEALS in Afghanistan, in Lone Survivor and Zero Dark Thirty, you are no doubt struck by the sacrifices these elite warriors make on the modern battlefield and the impeccable examples of heroism these movies have portrayed — not propaganda but truth.
However, there is another US Navy SEAL story from Afghanistan that’s not receiving much attention, simply because its truth is an indictment of failure on the part of the Obama administration, US Congress, and senior military leadership.
It is the story of the fate that befell a CH-47D helicopter, call sign Extortion 17.
Back on August 6, 2011, six months after Navy SEALs had terminated Osama Bin Laden, America suffered the single largest one-day loss of life in the ten year combat operation in Afghanistan. It was also the largest loss of Navy Special Warfare life in their history.
The mission that fateful evening entailed US Army Rangers going into the Tangi River valley in Wardak Province in Afghanistan after Taliban leader Qari Tahir.
As the Rangers landed and executed their mission, the Aerial Weapons Team (AWT) in two US Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters observed two individuals fleeing, but permission to engage with 30mm guns was denied.
The AWT then observed these two individuals, who they assessed to be armed, link up with six others who took up positions near the proposed helicopter landing zone (HLZ) that would be used later. Again, permission to engage was denied.
Back at the Forward Operating Base, the decision was made to launch the Quick Reaction Force (QRF). But just before takeoff, seven Afghan Commandos who were listed on the manifest to accompany the mission were switched out, and the new Afghans were not manifested.
The QRF loaded onto a CH-47D Chinook aircraft headed into a hot HLZ zone where combat operations had been raging for some three hours. The lumbering CH-47D is slow and possesses less maneuver capability than the normal special operations MH-47 aircraft.
Unescorted, the CH-47D made its way to the area of operations in the Tangi River valley, a Taliban stronghold. Because of the rules of engagement, no pre-assault fires were approved on the HLZ and there were no “eyes on” the HLZ to support the QRF infiltration.
It was easy pickings for the enemy. From a prepared firing position atop a building, they launched three rocket-propelled grenades. One hit the CH-47D’s tail rotor blade and in approximately 5 seconds it broke up into three pieces and crashed into a dry creek bed in a ball of flames.
The AWT had eyes on the point of origin of the RPG shots but the AH-64s were denied approval to engage the enemy — who were seen handing down equipment and fleeing the area.
I recommend you all pick up a copy of the book, Betrayed: The Shocking True Story of Extortion 17 as told by a Navy SEAL’s father by Billy Vaughn. Billy and Karen Vaughn live just north of me in Stuart, Florida, and I came to know them as they reached out to me while I served in Congress on this matter.
I know the story in detail because I received the classified briefing on the incident. In Billy’s book, you feel his pride in his son and the moment when he learned of his son’s death. You share the emotional strain of the family as they deal with the loss of Aaron.
But you also share the anguish of a father who learns he has been lied to as he uncovers the truth. You’ll read the declassified documents and investigation report that Billy had to read to learn the massive cover-up surrounding the death of these brave men, including his only son.
I’m sure you remember President Obama’s May 2011 speech after the killing of bin Laden, but there was no speech after Extortion 17. Billy and Karen Vaughn lost their 30-year-old SEAL Team VI son, Aaron Vaughn in that helicopter shoot down. Along with Aaron there were 16 US Navy SEAL Team VI members, five US Navy SEAL Team support members and one working dog, five US Army and Army National Guard flight crewmembers, three US Air Force members of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, seven unidentified Afghan Commandos, and one Afghan interpreter.
What is so appalling is the lack of concern from the Obama administration, Congress, and the military to lift the curtain of deceit. As well, you come to realize media hypocrisy is hiding this incident from the American people.
If this were the Bush administration, the story would have been all over the New York Times, Washington Post, and every single liberal media outlet — not that’s not the case. Remember Cindy Sheehan and attention she got? Then why are Billy and Karen Vaughn shunned?
Betrayed is a must read, you will not put the book down. It is a book that MUST be made into a film, albeit controversial. It should be mailed to President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker Boehner, Senator Reid, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi with one simple question, “Where is the truth for the Vaughns and all the families who lost their loved ones?” It is a book that should shame the media for not covering this dark moment in US Military history.
Never should our warriors and their families be treated in this manner. Never again should they be Betrayed."
This article was written Lieutenant Colonel Allen West
Dan Emplit WBFD
USN 1986 - 1992