Mission's commanding officers 'should be as far away from combat troops as humanly possible'
The mother of a soldier killed in an ambush in Afghanistan last year says she can't understand why the officers who failed to send in air support haven't been removed from duty.
“I’m still pro-military, but it’s a tragedy if these officers get off so lightly with just a reprimand,” Susan Price, the mother of Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, told the Army Times. “Why are they still in command? Where the hell are these officers, and why did they get just a slap on the wrist?”
Kenefick and four other US service members died on Sept. 8, 2009, in Afghanistan's Kunar province when they were ambushed by some 100 insurgents during a visit to a remote village. Eight Afghan troops and an interpreter were killed as well.
The embattled troops reportedly called for air support repeatedly for nearly two hours before helicopter support arrived -- after the unit had sustained casualties.
A report released last month said the officers in charge of the operation were "clearly negligent" in their duties.
"The actions of key leaders at the battalion level were inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life which ensued," the report stated. "The perception ... that elements did not adequately support the mission is accurate."
The military investigation "found that senior leaders were not continuously present in the operations center from the first point of contact with the Taliban to the first reports of mass casualties," CNN reported.
The Army Times reports that "even though the deaths of the team members were the result of 'negligent' leadership ... it appears no one involved in the botched planning or execution of the mission will get more than a letter of reprimand for contributing to the deaths of five fellow service members."
That's not good enough for Brian Johnson, father of Gunnery Sgt. Edwin Johnson Jr., who also died in the ambush.
The officers in charge of the operation "should be as far away from combat troops as humanly possible,” Johnson told the Army Times. "Whatever happens isn’t going to bring my son back. But I would sure like to make sure that those guys aren’t in a position to get anyone else killed, and that the procedures that led to this are changed."
Johnson and others are also questioning why the US military initially disputed a report from reporter Jonathan Landay, who was embedded with the troops during the ambush. Landay reported that commanders "rejected repeated calls to unleash artillery rounds at attackers" because of new rules meant to avoid civilian casualties.
"The summary does not address whether the cited officers denied fire support because of concerns about tighter restrictions on airstrikes and artillery put in place by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal last July to prevent civilian casualties," the Army Times reports.
"The family members said they have been told the lack of support was mostly a result of failure of leadership, but their version of the reports also says that service members who survived the attack saw women and children carrying ammunition to insurgents during the battle," the Times adds.
Landay's report paints a harrowing picture of the events of that day:
Dashing from boulder to boulder, diving into trenches and ducking behind stone walls as the insurgents maneuvered to outflank us, we waited more than an hour for U.S. helicopters to arrive, despite earlier assurances that air cover would be five minutes away.
"We are pinned down. We are running low on ammo. We have no air. We've lost today," Marine Maj. Kevin Williams, 37, said through his translator to his Afghan counterpart, responding to the latter's repeated demands for helicopters.