Ginni Thomas

The story behind the shoot down of ‘Extortion 17’ – Part 1

Grae Stafford Freelance Photographer
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Most people know SEAL Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden, but few know what happened afterwards, and why.

On Aug. 6 2011, members of SEAL Team 6 engaged in another covert raid in Afghanistan. As they approached the drop zone, Taliban forces attacked using rocket propelled grenades. The CH-47 carrying the SEALS with the call-sign “Extortion 17” was was hit by one of the rockets tearing off ten and a half feet of one of its main rotor blades. Extortion 17 crashed, killing 30 Americans and eight Afghans. It is the single largest one day loss of life in the history of Naval Special Warfare division and of the entire 12-year Afghanistan campaign. One of those aboard was US Navy SEAL Aaron Vaughn.

Now his parents Karen and Billy Vaughn are speaking out about what happened and the catalog of errors that led to the downing of Extortion 17.

“On May 1, SEAL Team 6, as we know now unfortunately, killed Osama bin Laden. On May 2, Joe Biden, in an unprecedented act, no let’s just call it what it is, in a breach of national security, outed the SEALs as the ones who took down bin Laden. It had never been done.”

Karen explains that after the Vice President made his statement their son called home, very concerned about their safety.

“Within twenty four hours Aaron called home and said, ‘Mom, you need to wipe your social media clean. I mean, you need to get everything off of it.’ My son was never nervous. He was a fearless warrior. He was worried that day. Not for himself he was nervous for his loved ones, who couldn’t defend themselves.”

According to Karen, based on written testimony that the Vaughns now have in their possession, after the Biden made his statement, increased chatter from the Taliban showed they were devoting their efforts to downing a NATO chopper.

The Vaughns argue that administration officials, including Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta, was so keen to garner good publicity from the SEALs’ operations that operational security was jeopardized in favor of sympathetic coverage. This included revealing classified details including the names of the SEALs involved to Hollywood director Kathryn Bigelow to assist in the making of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

“The special forces community went crazy in fear for their families,” Karen said.

The Vaughns believe that the llaissez faire approach to operational security in Afghanistan, including the sharing of tactical information with unsecure Afghan forces, led to the Taliban being able to accurately target the forces of SEAL Team 6.

“They knew who was on that chopper that night,” Aaron’s father said. “By 2009, our ambassador had made a statement that the American government believed that at least 25 percent of the Afghan national Army was infiltrated by the Taliban.”

Watch part two of the interview with Karen and Billy Vaughn here.

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