Could untrustworthy officials at the highest levels of the Afghan government be responsible for the single-largest loss of life in the history of U.S. Naval Special Warfare? I’m convinced they are.
On Aug. 6, 2011, a CH-47 “Chinook” — call sign “Extortion 17” — was shot down during the pre-dawn hours while on a mission to capture a bad guy in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. Among the dead, 30 Americans, most of whom were members of the U.S. Navy’s elite SEAL TEAM SIX.
Because the deaths of these “quiet professionals” came only weeks after Vice President Joe Biden compromised operational security by disclosing details about their unit’s involvement in a raid on Osama bin Laden‘s compound in Pakistan, some people — including family members and friends of SEALs killed in the crash — believe the SEALs may have been sacrificed by the Obama Administration to appease followers of bin Laden. More likely, however, is that they were set up by unvetted or poorly-vetted Afghan officials allowed to work closely with U.S. and Coalition Forces decision-makers.
Is it beyond the realm of possibilities to think Afghan officials are corrupt enough to engage in such activities? Hardly According to a report issued last week by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, the following is true:
Widespread corruption in Afghanistan is a significant problem and remains a threat to the success of reconstruction and assistance programs. In 2012, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan in a tie with Somalia and North Korea as the most corrupt country in the world. NOTE: Here’s the link to the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index if you want to see it for yourself.
These are likely the same kind of people who, after surviving a supposedly-thorough vetting process, have excelled at waging hundreds of often-deadly “Green-on-Blue” or “Insider” attacks against American and Coalition Forces mentors and advisors while wearing the uniforms of their country’s military, police and security agencies instead of the attire of government officials.
Exactly who are the Afghans officials who likely set up the warriors aboard Extortion 17? Based on what I read among the more than 1,300 pages that make up the Extortion 17 crash investigation report produced by U.S. Central Command, I’d say its the high-level Afghans who serve on the Operational Coordination Group (OCG).
Early in the report, I found the transcript of a briefing conducted nine days after the crash by an American intelligence officer who, at one point, describes himself as “an SF guy by trade.” His audience is a group of about 18 people assembled at Bagram Air Base as part of the investigation process that followed the crash. The topic is the OCG’s participation in the war effort. NOTE: Because the copy of the report I received was redacted, the briefing officer’s branch of service and rank remain a mystery. His words from the transcript, however, appear below:
“We made some real money with the OCG; they are the Operational Coordination Group and they assist us with the planning, and the vetting, and de-confliction of our operation,” said the intelligence officer on page 6 of one 134-page document. “Likewise, once we are done executing the operation, they are able to send the results report, the result of the operations, up through their various administrates. They are made up of the Afghan National Army, the National Director of Security, as well as the Afghan National Police Force. They are here on site, but we also have them down at the regional level in RC-South and, in September, we are going to stand up region site up in RC-North.”
“So they have visibility on every operation?” asked the deputy investigating officer.
“Every operation,” the intel officer replied.
“So they knew about the operations?” the deputy asked, apparently wanting to confirm what he had just heard.
“Oh yea,” the intel officer confirmed.
“And they were briefed on it?” the deputy followed, again seeking confirmation.
“Absolutely,” came the reply.
Further down the same page, the deputy investigating officer asked another OCG-focused question – “So they have the ability, do they have approval authority on that, to cancel an operation?” – and the conversation continued:
“Technically, they do,” the intel officer replied. “They don’t exercise it, but technically they do have (the) authority.”
“So they either task or approve the operation?” the deputy investigating officer said, seeking confirmation.
The answer: “Yep.”
More than 50 pages deeper into the document, the investigating officer — then-Brig. Gen. Jeffrey N. Colt before being promoted in 2012 — asked for and received confirmation from the officer representing the Joint Special Operations Task Force Intelligence Directorate (J3) that every mission is vetted through the OCG. He also received some background knowledge about the group.
“(The Operational Coordination Group),” the J3 representative told him and others in the room, “was formed over two years ago when we said we needed to have really better legitimacy in the eyes of (Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) in order to maintain our freedom of maneuver. So, these guys are high level officials from Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, and the National Directorate of Security.”
“Really the only thing we keep from them, obviously, is the (Top Secret) level how we got to the target piece of it,” he added a short time later. “They are briefed on all the targets prior to execution and, you know, technically speaking if they would come to us and say, ‘I don’t want you to execute this mission,’ we wouldn’t do it.”
So, according to transcript, members of the OCG knew about the Extortion 17 mission in advance, were involved in assigning and/or approving the mission and could have vetoed the mission, but did not.
After realizing how deeply involved OCG members are in each mission, I asked myself a question — “Did a failure to properly screen top Afghan government officials before they were allowed to serve on the OCG help bring down Extortion 17?” — and set out to answer it.
SEARCH FOR AN ANSWER
I began by searching online for accurate information about the OCG. Unfortunately, I found very little information about the group’s existence prior to the crash of Extortion 17. Even the International Security Assistance Force/NATO website contained no mentions of the OCG prior to the crash.
The only online mention of the OCG prior to the crash appeared in a Spring 2007 NATO Review article. In it, the author, British Army Gen. David Richards, described the introduction of the OCG as a “significant development.” NOTE: “Spring 2007″ is a lot earlier than the “two years ago” description (i.e., August 2009) given by the J3 officer as the approximate date of the OCG’s launch.
Eight months after the crash, a DoD news release did mention the OCG, stating that the group had been given the authority to review and approve all special operations missions and to participate in intelligence fusion, monitor mission execution and make notifications to provincial governors. Two months after that, an ISAF news release confirmed the same.
In addition to searching online, I submitted a list of questions to ISAF public affairs officers via email the morning of Sept. 11. I wanted to know when and why the OCG was established and who participates in the OCG or comprises its membership. Most importantly, I wanted to know if non-American and non-NATO individuals are vetted prior to their involvement in OCG and asked for a description of the vetting process if they are.
Two days later, the response I received from Lt. Col. Will Griffin, an Army public affairs officer assigned to ISAF Headquarters, was vague at best:
The OCG was established in 2010 to communicate ISAF Special Operations Forces headquarters’ intentions to our Afghan partners in an expedient and concise manner and likewise provide a means for Afghan National Security Force to convey their concerns and intentions to ISAF SOF HQ.
The OCG is comprised of representatives from coalition forces and Afghan liaison officers. All Afghan partners are screened and certified by their ministries, as well as completing the same verification process as all liaison officers that work in secure ISAF installations.
Ten minutes after reading Colonel Griffin’s response, I replied by pointing out to the colonel that he had not included a requested description of the vetting process used to screen non-American and non-NATO members of the OCG. Then I waited for another 15 hours. Rather than receive a description of the vetting process, however, I received the following message:
The vetting process is a comprehensive look at the individual’s background, associates, personal history, etc. Operational security considerations prevent me to go into further depth.
After Colonel Griffin offered little in terms of knowledge about the process used — if, in fact, there is one — to vet OCG members, I conducted a less-than-scientific survey of other sources, including friends and acquaintances who’ve spent varying lengths of time in Afghanistan and family members of American “Green-on-Blue” casualties. The general consensus: Afghans cannot be trusted.
Does this information prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that some Afghan members of the OCG are corrupt? No.
Does it prove that Afghan members of the OCG engaged in an effort to down Extortion 17? No.
Does it prove the OCG has been comprised by Afghans who may be subject to a vetting process that’s even less stringent than that the one used to screen entry-level policemen, security guards and soldiers? No.
What I can do, however, is encourage Americans to demand answers from their elected officials about Extortion 17 in much the same way they’re demanding answers to questions surrounding the deaths of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
In addition, I can encourage Americans to purchase copies of the upcoming book, BETRAYED: Exposing the High Cost of the War on Terror, by Billy Vaughn. Along with his wife, Karen, the author of this book has spent a great deal of time and energy looking into the cause of the crash for one very personal reason: Extortion 17 was the final mission of their son, Navy SEAL Aaron Carson Vaughn.
While you wait for Billy Vaughn’s book, be sure to order copies of my two nonfiction books, Three Days In August (October 2011) and THE CLAPPER MEMO (May 2013). Both are available in paperback and ebook at Amazon.com. Thanks in advance!
Bob McCarty is the author of Three Days In August and THE CLAPPER MEMO. To learn more about either book or to place an order, click on the graphic above.