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Reports: C-130 In Support Of Trapped Operators Restricted Due To Fears Of ‘Collateral Damage’

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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An AC-130 gunship was allegedly prevented from providing air support to a group of U.S. special forces under heavy fire from the Taliban due to fears that it could cause collateral damage, according to a report from SOFRep.com and a congressman’s recent inquiry to the Department of Defense.

The soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 19th Special Forces Group came under heavy fire from Taliban forces as they accompanied Afghan Forces on a mission in the town of Marjah in Helmand province as part of Operation Resolute Support Jan. 5.

According to one report, close air support for the 12-hour firefight that ensued was delayed and limited despite the availability of the gunship operating in the area, according to Jack Murphy, writing for SOFRep.com.

“Eventually, the command allowed AC-130 to fire a whopping two 40mm rounds into an open field,” wrote Murphy, a former special forces soldier, “a weak show of force to the Taliban.”

Army Col. Michael Lawhorn, spokesman for Operation Resolute Support, flatly denied these claims in emails to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We conducted 12 airstrikes against various threats to the force … [with] a combination of platforms,” says Lawhorn. Included in the strikes were F-16 fighters and an AC-130, according to a report by Stars and Stripes.

By the time U.S. forces were reinforced, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock of the 19th Special Forces Group  was dead, while two other U.S service members and an unnamed number of Afghans were wounded. In addition, a helicopter sent to evacuate the wounded took small-arms and mortar fire and ended up grounded, though it’s unclear if the grounding was due to an in-air mishap, as some reports have indicated.  (RELATED: One US Special Forces Operator Killed, Two Wounded In Afghanistan)

Murphy’s report claims that the command allegedly would not give the go-ahead to provide full support “due to fears of collateral damage.” The AC-130 gunship is a heavily armed variant of the C-130 cargo plane tailor-made to support land forces. It is equipped with two 20 mm cannons, a 40 mm cannon and an M-102 howitzer artillery cannon.

[dcquiz] It is believed that an AC-130 was responsible for the attacks on the hospital in Kunduz that killed 22 people in October of last year. Murphy speculates that the now-infamous attack on Kunduz might have made commanders gun shy about the gunship’s deployment.

Murphy’s report also claims the QRF on standby for the special forces in Marjah was supposedly delayed by leadership in order to wait for nightfall.

Lawhorn said that the QRF arrived “a few hours” after the firefight began, though he could not confirm that the firefight was ongoing when the team arrived. He also notes the “downed bird [helicopter] was successfully airlifted to Kandahar air field.”

“I don’t know of anything that prevented the QRF from deploying,” said Lawhorn, “All the casualties were extracted successfully and shortly after the QRF’s arrival.”

Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan generally operate in a supplementary role, explained Lawhorn. “What we’ll do as our part is to ‘train, advise, and assist’ as the Afghans are putting their plan together.”

“They will also travel with the Afghan SOF, up to what we usually refer to as, ‘[the] last covered and concealed position” or an “overwatch position “but … and this is VERY important … our forces do NOT go on the objective with the Afghans. That’s for them to do; we are there to do TAA [Train Advise Assist]. We’ll watch or listen in on the radio from the overwatch position,” he continues.

“So, how does an event like this unfold? I don’t know what happened here,” Lawhorn said, “but typically, our guys are travelling with the Afghans from their assembly area to just short of the objective. It’s not unreasonable that they run into some Taliban at some other point during that journey. As we always say, ‘[the] enemy gets a vote.'”

In response to the uncertainties regarding fire support Jan. 5, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), a former Navy SEAL operator, is leading a congressional inquiry into the affair.

Zinke’s statement on the inquiry said he had heard “from members of the Special Forces community that air support by a AC-130 gunship and the QRF … was delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles and the Administration’s restrictive rules of engagement.”

“Staff Sgt. Matthew McClintock, his family and his unit deserve for the truth to be out there, and we need to make sure this does not happen again,” said Zinke in the announcement provided to TheDCNF.

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