By Douglas J. Hagmann
It’s likely that most Americans have never heard of the Ganjgal Valley in Afghanistan. What you are about to read is a true account of what happened there during an agonizing several hours on September 8, 2009. If I have done my job right, by the time you finish, you will be saddened and very angry. But most of all, if you really care about our troops beyond the obligatory lapel pins and bumper stickers, you will demand answers from the highest levels of our government. Because, but for the grace of God, this account could be about you or one of your family members being executed on the other side of the globe.
The families and loved ones of five of America’s best and bravest have experienced an irreplaceable loss due to their needless deaths, which is a gaping wound that continues to be shrouded in mystery despite what various official reports suggest. The voluminous and heavily redacted official investigation leaves more questions than it answers, thus denying true justice to our fallen heroes and their families. Truth and justice have been denied for too long, and now is the time to accept nothing less.
Based on my research to date, I have no doubt that what happened at Ganjgal is but a microcosm of what is taking place throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas in this war waged upon us by Muslim terrorists – a war that has been convoluted by Washington politicians and twisted by an accommodating media.
Since the onset of 24/7 news coverage, we’ve been adhering to unviable rules of engagement in our prosecution of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. No one likes civilian casualties, but the unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that in many cases, it is the so-called “civilians” we are fighting. Our enemy either takes on the appearance of innocuous civilians, hides behind them, or the civilians themselves actively support enemy operations. Nowhere is this more clear than in Ganjgal, where the lives of so-called innocent civilians were spared over our uniformed men of valor.
This is unacceptable and, in the end, forces us into an unwinnable situation. Insight in the ambush at Ganjgal will undoubtedly shine a spotlight on forbidden truths about the wars in which we are engaged. Forbidden truths from the policies of politicians at the expense of the lives of our finest.
The information you are about to read has been assembled, sourced, and verified by extensive research and my direct interviews with the mother of one fallen hero and the widow of another. Additional sources who were close to this incident in ways that cannot yet be revealed also furnished valuable information and insight. Although this is my first report of this incident, it will not be my last. My final report will be submitted when justice has been fully served.
The mission into Ganjgal reportedly evolved from an earlier patrol operation near the Afghan village of Dam Dara, located about a mile from Ganjgal in the eastern part of Kunar Province of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. An Embedded Training Team (ETT) reportedly received information through or as a result of Dam Dara that the village elders of Ganjgal wanted to renounce their alliance with the Taliban. They requested coalition forces to come to their village to discuss the rebuilding of a local mosque and to conscribe local men, all reportedly willing participants, into the coalition forces.
According to the information given in a briefing before the mission, coalition forces were advised to expect minimal resistance by ragtag Taliban fighters that were expected to total a dozen at most. For any such resistance, the team was promised full air and ground support if needed.
At about 3:00 am local time on September 8, 2009, Embedded Training Team 2-8, a combined task force of 13 U.S. military trainers, 60 Afghan soldiers, and 20 border patrol police officers departed from their forwarding operating base in a column of Humvees, traveling the rugged terrain to Genjgal. One of the men in the convoy carried a suitcase stuffed full of American dollars. One witness I interviewed estimated that the case contained “tens of thousands of dollars,” adding that it is a customary practice to provide money as an incentive for loyalty.
Known as Backsheesh, it is the core of economic corruption in Afghanistan and among Muslims in the Middle East. Perhaps Americans might think differently about our methodology in Afghanistan, knowing that the U.S. military has already paid the Taliban and Muslim “insurgents” millions of dollars in taxpayer cash to avoid being attacked at key strategic areas, in bribes, or in exchange for information.
For the Ganjgal operation, however, the plan was to meet with the elders-cash in hand- and to integrate coalition forces with the villagers, turning their support from the Taliban. Two additional witnesses I interviewed, both of whom were assigned roles related to the mission, said that they had a “very bad feeling” about this particular assignment even before their deployment to Ganjgal. Unfortunately, they could not have been more right.
To fully appreciate the level of exposure to our forces on this particular mission, it is important to get a sense of the village of Ganjgal. Situated on the eastern end of a curved, or horseshoe valley that runs in a generally west to east direction, the village consists of about sixty rock-walled compounds situated atop tiered mountainous slopes, where stone walls act as giant stair headers leading to the village itself. The approach to the village begins from the west as a rugged road, switching quickly to a narrow path that forms the giant horseshoe valley in front of and below the village.
As I looked at the terraced terrain from a series of satellite photographs and the animation from the Sixty Minutes television segment, the position of the fortress-like buildings and the horseshoe-shaped valley, I could not help but describe it out loud as “Afghanistan’s Dealy Plaza.” The valley narrowed, and travel by vehicle became impractical, if not impossible, due to giant boulders and ruts that would stop even Humvees. It was at the base of this horseshoe that the coalition forces had to leave their vehicles and hike the remaining portion of the trip.
Before departing from their vehicles, however, there were indications that things were not as they should be. One soldier questioned the wisdom of launching the mission when the moon was full and illuminated the desolate landscape. But that’s not all.
As the Humvees were still several miles away from the village, their headlights shining on the unforgiving terrain of the area, some of the men observed the entire town “go dark.” Lights from the village that could be seen in the distance were inexplicably turned off, an ominous sign of things to come.
As the coalition forces hiked their way toward the village and reached the eastern portion of the walled village at about 5:20 am, the sun was shining low in the eastern sky. It was then that coalition forces began taking on enemy fire. What began as an initial volley of sniper fire rapidly turned into a firestorm of machine-gun attacks, rockets, and rocket-propelled grenades. The anticipated harassment from a ragtag team of a dozen or less enemies suddenly became an attack by perhaps as many as 150 Muslim terrorists armed with machine guns, rockets and RPGs.
It soon became evident that the task force was trapped in this valley as the enemy forces kept up this relentless barrage of fire while they also spread out to their flanks to trap them into this ideal killing zone. By all standards, it was a very well-planned, well-manned, and heavily equipped military operation.
Perhaps veteran embedded journalist Jonathan Landay of McClatchey News described it best: ” People became convinced that we had been set up.”
Landay continued: “It became apparent that the ambushing force was one that knew what it was doing. That the ambush was laid out by someone who had military training and military skills and was being launched by a large number of people who were armed with very powerful weapons and at no point… ever had a problem with low ammunition, unlike the Afghans and Americans who ran out – who were running low on ammunition within a couple of hours within the start of this.”
As a battle-hardened journalist, Landay stated that “neither I nor the American troops I was with had ever been in anything like this before, and these [coalition] troops were all veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. I have covered stories from Kashmir to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and Kosovo. I’ve been in firefights before but never in my entire life have I ever experienced anything of the kind I experienced the other day, and hopefully, never will.”
We should listen to Mr. Landay because he has been in the worst of the worst of situations, but the ambush at Genjgal was decidedly different. One source I interviewed stated, “it was almost as if they wanted them to die out there.” The question remains: “why?”
Some witnesses in Ganjgal Valley that day say they heard the terrorist leader over a possibly captured field radio, while another report suggests it was a voice over a loudspeaker. “We will do to you what we did to the Russians,” said the voice, referencing the failure of Soviet troops to capture Ganjgal during the Soviet occupation. How this leader obtained the radio or was otherwise so brazenly able to mock American and coalition forces remains an unknown but troubling matter.
Furthermore, investigation by this author and Susan Price, mother of the fallen Aaron Kenefick, notes that intelligence reports from August paint an entirely different picture about the sentiments of villagers at Dam Dara and surrounding areas. “The intelligence reports submitted by my son, copies that I have obtained from his personal effects, are not consistent with the intelligence reports responsible for undertaking this mission.” No one has asked any questions about these discrepancies. The question again remains: Why not?
At about 5:50 am, coalition officer Army Captain Will Swenson, trainer of the Afghan Border Police unit, began urgently calling for air support and artillery fire from soldiers manning the technical operations center at FOB Joyce, a unit within the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
The coalition forces, now under constant attack and nearly surrounded on three sides, received word from the officers at the tactical operations center that no helicopters were available. Initially, only four artillery salvos were fired against the enemy – all within the first hour of the operation. Of the four, three were ineffective, while the other was only marginally helpful. Therefore, it is evident that the “fire support NCO” on duty at the start of the hostilities did initially provide limited support. So limited, in fact, that no further artillery support was authorized from 6:39 am through 4:15 pm, a span of nearly eight hours.
The bottom line: artillery support was denied. According to heavily redacted published investigative reports, requests for artillery and air support were overruled by higher echelons.
Cited as reasons for denying such support included fear of causing civilian casualties, despite eyewitness reports that women and children were actually carrying and resupplying the terrorists with weapons and ammunition to use against the trapped coalition forces.
As if this could not get any worse, at least one helicopter gunship was in close proximity of Genjgal Valley during the tense firefight. Communications directly from the ground at Genjgal with the helicopter were made, and for a few moments, it appeared that the helicopter gunship was on its way to rescue the pinned-down fighters. However, an unidentified officer ultimately denied the direct requests from the battlefield to send a helicopter gunship because the requests weren’t sent through his brigade headquarters and the aircraft was assigned to another operation.
The report also stated that “the battalion’s operations officer (S3), fire support officer (FSO) and intelligence officer (S2) ‘were not continuously present in the operations center’ and that ‘their actions were inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life which ensued.’” According to the report, three of the 10th Mountain Division men “were issued letters of reprimand” for their inactions.
Listening to the battle rage and the lack of support evident, 21-year-old Former Marine Corporal Dakota Meyer, accompanied by Staff Sgt. Rodriguez-Chavez sprang into action. Meyer heard the repeated and frantic calls for help and watched as four members of his unit were pinned down ahead of him. When no assistance was forthcoming for the better part of an hour, Meyer radioed his superiors to request permission to make a rescue attempt in a gun-mounted armored vehicle. They were denied.
Feeling helpless, Meyer again asked if they could assist and were told to stand down. Directly disobeying the order of a superior officer, Meyer and Staff Sgt. Rodriguez-Chavez went forward with the rescue attempt despite the potential consequences.
Asked why he would drive through such a wall of fire on a recent Sixty Minutes program, Meyer stated that “there was U.S. troops getting shot at and those are your brothers.” There was no mental argument for Meyer. He simply went after them, adding, “You either get them out alive or you die trying. If you don’t die trying, you didn’t try hard enough.”
According to the segment on Sixty Minutes, Rodriguez-Chavez drove the truck, for which he earned the Navy Cross, while Meyer manned the vehicle’s top-mounted gun during five separate sorties into the battlefield to rescue the trapped and wounded U.S. troops.
Meyer ultimately located his four fallen comrades and mourns those he was unable to save. Despite the tragic loss of life, it is Meyer and Rodriguez-Chavez who intervened and made a heroic difference.
As the evening sun set on Ganjgal Valley, four of America’s finest were killed on the battlefield:
Dying 29 days later at Walter Reed Medical Hospital, was a fifth member of the task force:
Kenneth Westbrook was just two months away from retirement. Questions surrounding his death remain. Having interviewed Mrs. Westbrook, I know there are a very curious series of events that took place in the hours before the death of Kenneth Westbrook. Events on which movies are made, but such information must be withheld until the appropriate time. Stay tuned, as you will be shocked by what you will be told.
Questions about the events of support – or lack thereof – continue to this day. According to Susan Price, mother of fallen Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Kenefick, at least one U.S. military member who heard the radio exchanges between the coalition forces and the tactical operations center stated that her son’s insistent pleas “were met with annoyance and even at one point, a level of ridicule. It was sickening to hear that my son and others on the battlefield begged for support but were denied it. If the proper response was made, my son and the others might still be here today.”
Interviewed by Tom Bauerle, host of the Tom Bauerle Show on WBEN-930 AM last week, Ms. Price spent about 90 minutes explaining what she found in the heavily redacted 15-6 investigation report and what she learned from others who were present at Ganjgal Valley that day. She came to the same conclusion as the heavily redacted 15-6 investigation but wants the public to know that there is more to this story. Much more.
Having spent numerous hours over the course of the last several days talking with Susan Price, Gold Star mother of Aaron Kenefick, I can assure you that Sarah Palin has nothing on Susan Price when it comes to being a “mama Grizzly” and defending her cubs in this life and beyond.
Mustering the courage and drive of a dozen women, the instincts of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, and the desire to see justice served in full force, Susan Price is determined to see that a Congressional Investigation is convened and those commanders who to this point have been nothing but faceless redactions in a lengthy report of poor excuses are brought to justice. Perhaps even on negligent manslaughter charges.
“I won’t quit until I find the truth and nothing less,” Susan told me during one of our late-night conversations. My son had the courage and will, and so do I. I will not let him or his fellow soldiers down.
Something happened on the days leading up to and on the day of the Genjgal ambush. Something sinister, and something that has yet to be addressed. As the families of the victims began putting pressure on the military to issue their findings and mete out justice to those who willfully failed to act, odd things began happening to those making the loudest noise.
For example, Susan Price was followed by a vehicle in a menacing manner. Using all of her courage, powers of observation and resources to trace the vehicle to its owner, she was surprised to learn that the vehicle belonged to the U.S. government. Susan was not alone in these incidents of the strange and curious. Two other families reported unusual and inexplicable occurrences. And then there was a series of similar and quite dramatic incidents involving a survivor of the ambush.
It’s also important to point out that Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick was not just shot, but was executed. Amid all of the bullets and shrapnel flying, Aaron was found with a single bullet wound to his head. The trajectory of the bullet, which was never found, was basically from back to front. Aside from a GPS unit he was holding when shot, his rifle, radio and other items were missing from his body.
Given the various security clearances, the close working relationships with some members of the team that reportedly worked on the bin Laden attack, and the deaths associated with those men, and a variety of other factors soon to be released, such strange occurrences might not be unusual after all.
Regardless, nothing is about to stop the Gold Star Mom and others involved in demanding the truth. Nothing. Stay tuned.
Susan Price can be reached at the following e-mail address: email@example.com