Ganjgal Revisited

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 1 month ago

Prior Study: Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement

There’s something rotten afoot.

Like other U.S. trainers with the Afghan force that day, former Army Capt. William Swenson had expected light resistance. Instead, the contingent walked into a furious six-hour gunfight with Taliban ambushers in which Swenson repeatedly charged through intense fire to retrieve wounded and dead.

The 2009 battle of Ganjgal is perhaps the most remarkable of the Afghan war for its extraordinary heroism and deadly incompetence. It produced dozens of casualties, career-killing reprimands and a slew of commendations for valor. They included two Medal of Honor nominations, one for Swenson.

Yet months after the first living Army officer in some 40 years was put in for the nation’s highest military award for gallantry, his nomination vanished into a bureaucratic black hole. The U.S. military in Afghanistan said an investigation had found that it was “lost” in the approval process, something that several experts dismissed as improbable, saying that hasn’t happened since the awards system was computerized in the mid-1970s.

In fact, the investigation uncovered evidence that suggests a far more troubling explanation. It showed that as former Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer’s Medal of Honor nomination from the same battle sailed toward approval despite questions about the accuracy of the account of his deeds, there may have been an effort to kill Swenson’s nomination.

Swenson’s original nomination was downgraded to a lesser award, in violation of Army and Defense Department regulations, evidence uncovered by the investigation showed.

Moreover, Swenson’s Medal of Honor nomination “packet,” a digitized file that contains dozens of documents attesting to his “heroism … above and beyond the call of duty,” disappeared from the computer system dedicated to processing awards, a circumstance for which the military said it has “no explanation.”

The unpublished findings, which McClatchy Newspapers has reviewed, threaten to taint a military awards process that’s designed to leave no margin of doubt or possibility of error about the heroism and sacrifices of U.S. service personnel. They also could bolster charges by some officers, lawmakers, veterans’ groups and experts that the process is vulnerable to improper interference and manipulation, embarrassing the military services and the Obama administration.

[ ... ]

Interviewed by military investigators five days after the battle, Swenson implicitly criticized top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan by blasting their rules of engagement. Angered that his repeated calls for artillery and air support were denied during the ambush, he charged that in trying to prevent civilian casualties for political reasons, the rules were costing U.S. soldiers’ lives.

“We are not looking at the ground fighter and why he is using these air assets,” Swenson said, according to a transcript obtained by McClatchy. “We just reduced an asset that’s politically unpopular. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there saying, ‘I would really like that asset.’ There are probably a lot of people who got killed as a result of not having that asset.

“I’m not a politician. I’m just the guy on the ground asking for that ammunition to be dropped because it’s going to save lives,” he continued.

Further, several key parts of the Army’s draft account of Swenson’s deeds — a central pillar of a nomination file — conflict with the Marines’ account of Meyer’s acts.

Further, several key parts of the Army’s draft account of Swenson’s deeds — a central pillar of a nomination file — conflict with the Marines’ account of Meyer’s acts.

The Army’s version, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, said it was Swenson — not Meyer — who led the recovery of U.S. and Afghan casualties from the Ganjgal Valley.

“The need for a ground recovery of all remaining casualties had now become clear,” the Army’s draft narrative said. “Facing this extreme and dire circumstance, and going above and beyond the call of duty, CPT Swenson gathered available combat power to lead a return up the wash.”

The Army’s draft narrative also corroborated the reporting of a McClatchy correspondent who survived the ambush that the belated arrival of U.S. helicopters had allowed trapped American personnel to escape, and that they weren’t saved by Meyer.

“A team of scout helicopters … arrived in the valley. CPT Swenson … began to talk the aircrafts’ fires onto the various enemy targets,” the draft narrative said. “The enemy sporadically engaged coalition forces while they were overhead. This provided (Swenson and those with him) the slim opportunity they needed” to pull back.

The problem of conflicting narratives would have been eliminated with the quiet death of Swenson’s nomination, which was put in some two months before Meyer was nominated.

Analysis & Commentary

Thanks to loyal reader and veteran of RC East in Afghanistan, Dirty Mick, who sends this link along.  He also points out that “if the army sorts out this paperwork snafu this will be the 6th MOH recipient (There’s only 10 in the whole GWOT so far) awarded for warriors that have served in Kunar Province. Staff Sergeant Giunta, Sergeant Meyer, Sergeant Miller, Lieutenant Murphy, and Sergeant First Class Monti (Which happened on the Kunar/Nuristan border in Gowardesh Valley). Has there been heavy fighting in other provinces? Of course but I think this is proof of the gravity of RC East and how it should have been the focus of the surge. With the massing of forces that we’ve talked about in the past (The last part of an ambush I was in had 60-70 fighters but combined with the other two TICs we got into it totalled to about a 100 and I was just on a PRT) against army units and the terrain I think N2KL should’ve been the focus of the surge as opposed to RC-South. The whole situation out there is truly tragic. ”

Tragic indeed.  But I’m still not convinced that Kunar / Nuristan should have been a sole focus of the surge.  Had it been, Now Zad, which was an R&R area for Taliban, Marjah, Garmsir, Musa Qala, Sangin and other areas would have withstood the reflexive bulge of fighters had we cleared RC East.  What I did recommend, however, is that [a] the Marines send more men to Now Zad instead of send them on wasteful MEUs, [b] the Marines move on to RC East after initial clearing operations were completed, [c] and more Soldiers and Marines be sent to Afghanistan, including to the Nuristan and Kunar Provinces.  Any reading of my Pech River Valley shows the attention I have recommended for RC East as well as Helmand and Kandahar.

But what I am thoroughly convinced of is that the report that the nomination for MoH got “lost” is a lie.  I don’t believe it.  If the Army awarded an MoH to Swenson, they would have impugned not only the self-serving screw-ups working at Joyce that fateful and horrible day (who denied artillery support because it might harm noncombatants while allowing white phosphorous to hide their retreat), it would reflect badly on the rules of engagement promulgated by Stanley McChrystal.  As I’ve pointed out before, culpability isn’t an either-or in this instance, it is both-and.  Both the men at Joyce and Stanley McChrystal are culpable for the deaths at Ganjgal.  They should all be in Leavenworth.  But as pointed out by one commenter, “The real reason those officers were not Court Martialed is they “wear the ring” of the Army Service Acadamy, that is they are “ring knockers”, this is a direct insult to those in command who wear the ring but shirk from their duty’s. You shall never ever see a “ring knocker” critized (sic) much less punished for “crimes” committed by other “ring knockers” Why do you think Will Swenson resigned??. He tesifiefed (sic) against the “ring knockers” and was extremely critical of their lack of action, his career was esentially (sic) ended, do not believe otherwise.”

There is more troubling information concerning the degree to which Swenson’s and Dakota Meyers’ accounts cohere.  This must be worked out.  More investigation must be done, and the truth must not be allowed to be buried, or just as bad, left untold.  But part of this truth is just how this MoH recommendation got “lost” … er, trashed.

Prior:

Reprimands in Marine Deaths in Ganjgal Engagement (highly recommended for the comments of family members of veterans who perished at Ganjgal)

AR 15-6 Investigation of Marine Deaths in Kunar Province

More Thoughts on Marines and Rules of Engagement

Taliban Ambush in Eastern Kunar Kills Four Marines


You are currently reading "Ganjgal Revisited", entry #8898 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Ganjgal,General McChrystal,Rules of Engagement and was published August 7th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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