The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Ques­tions haunt the fam­i­lies of Ex­tor­tion 17, the 2011 he­li­copter mis­sion in Afghanistan that suf­fered the most U.S. mil­i­tary deaths in a sin­gle day in the war on ter­ror­ism. Ev­ery day, Char­lie Strange, the fa­ther of one of the 30 Amer­i­cans who died Aug. 6, 2011, in the flash of a rock­et­pro­pelled grenade, asks him­self whether his son, Michael, was set up by some­one in­side the Afghan gov­ern­ment want­ing re­venge on Osama bin Laden’s killers — SEAL Team 6.

“Some­body was leak­ing to the Tal­iban,” said Mr. Strange, whose son in­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions as a Navy cryp­tol­o­gist. “They knew. Some­body tipped them off. There were guys in a tower. Guys on the bush line. They were sit­ting there, wait­ing. And they sent our guys right into the mid­dle.”

Doug Ham­burger’s son, Pa­trick, an Army staff sergeant, also per­ished when the CH-47D Chi­nook de­scended to a spot less than 150 yards from where armed Tal­iban fight­ers watched from a tur­ret.

He asks why the com­mand sent his son into Tangi Val­ley to­ward a “hot land­ing zone” in a cargo air­ship in­stead of a spe­cial op­er­a­tions he­li­copter. The souped-up chop­pers — the MH-47 and the MH-60 Black Hawk, which SEAL Team 6 rode the stealth ver­sion of to kill bin Laden — are flown by Night Stalker pi­lots skilled in fast, ground­hug­ging ma­neu­vers to avoid de­tec­tion.

“When you want to fly them into a val­ley, when you’ve got hill­sides on both sides of it with houses built into sides of the val­ley, that is an ex­tremely dan­ger­ous mis­sion,” Mr. Ham­burger said. “The MH, the new model, they’ve got radar that will pick up an in­com­ing mis­sile or in­com­ing RPG. They’re faster. They’re quicker on at­tack. They’re more ag­ile. So there was ev­ery rea­son in the world to use the MH that night.”

Sith Douang­dara, whose 26-year-old son, John, was a Navy ex­pe­di­tionary spe­cial­ist who han­dled war­rior dog Bart, said he has lots of unan­swered ques­tions.

“I want to know why so many U.S. ser­vice­men, es­pe­cially SEALs, were as­sem­bled on one air­craft,” he said. “I want to know why the black box of the he­li­copter has not been found. I want to know many things.”

Not all fam­i­lies be­lieve the fact-find­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion, con­ducted by Army Brig. Gen. Jef­frey Colt cov­ered all is­sues. Gen. Colt, who has since been pro­moted to ma­jor gen­eral, told com­man­ders that his job was not to find fault and his re­port did not crit­i­cize any per­son or de­ci­sion.

“I want peo­ple held ac­count­able,” said Mr. Strange, a for­mer union con­struc­tion worker who deals black­jack in a Philadel­phia casino.

A spokesman for U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, which over­seas the war and con­ducted the probe, de­clined to an­swer the fam­i­lies’ ques­tions and re­ferred a reporter to Gen. Colt’s re­port.

Congress gets in­volved

More than two years later, more an­swers may be forth­com­ing. The House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, led by Rep. Dar­rell E. Issa, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, is mak­ing in­quiries af­ter meet­ing with some fam­i­lies.

Larry Klay­man, who runs the non­profit watch­dog group Free­dom Watch, has filed suit in U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Columbia against the Pen­tagon, as well as the Air Force, Army and Navy. He wants a judge to or­der the mil­i­tary to turn over an ar­ray of doc­u­ments un­der the U.S. Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act. He said the De­fense Depart­ment stonewalled his writ­ten re­quests, so Free­dom Watch went to court last month and suc­ceeded in forc­ing the gov­ern­ment to turn over records.

For the first time, Mr. Klay­man al­lowed The Wash­ing­ton Times to view the mil­i­tary’s in­ves­tiga­tive files turned over to fam­ily mem­bers two years ago.

“The fam­i­lies of our fallen he­roes, who I am proud to rep­re­sent, need clo­sure to this tragedy,” Mr. Klay­man said. “There are many unan­swered ques­tions and the mil­i­tary’s ex­pla­na­tions of the causes of the crash do not add up.”

He said fam­i­lies also want changes to the mil­i­tary’s re­stric­tive rules of en­gage­ment that made it more dif­fi­cult for U.S. he­li­copter pi­lots to fire back at the Tal­iban fight­ers they be­lieved brought down

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