NATO Investigates Untimely Air Support

I wrote about this incident the other day right HERE. Now either NATO is feeling the heat from the bad press and they are saying they are investigating or they are truly concerned about this. Either way, ETTs have been left out hanging with little to no support long before Gen McChrystal ever came into country and implemented his new ROE policy.  

NATO forces are investigating a firefight that killed nine Afghans and four U.S. troops — including a Chesapeake native — on Tuesday, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

McClatchy News Service, which had a reporter with the troops (read his account) when they were ambushed, is reporting that the team of Marine trainers made repeated calls for air and artillery support after being pinned down by insurgents in the eastern Afghanistan province of Kunar. U.S. commanders rejected their calls, citing new rules to avoid civilian casualties, the news service reported, despite being told repeatedly that the troops were not near a village.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that it did take "some time" for air support to arrive, but the delay was due to distance, not the rules of engagement.

He said the deaths are under investigation, adding, "We will hopefully get to the bottom and figure out if everything operated according to protocol."

Among the four Americans who died was 1st Lt. Michael Johnson, 25, a 2002 graduate of Hickory High School in Chesapeake. Johnson was assigned to the 7th Communications Battalion, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. His current permanent address is in Virginia Beach, according to the Defense Department.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, established the stricter rules of engagement in July, arguing that civilian casualties must be avoided in order to win ordinary Afghans’ support in the battle against the Taliban.

The rules allow commanders to defend their troops with force where no other options are available.

But Tuesday’s incident sounds all too familiar to retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Beam of Chesapeake, whose son, Army Sgt. Kevin Beam, is stationed in Afghanistan.

About four weeks ago, Beam said, his son’s unit was ambushed with small arms and rocket fire and a soldier was injured and could not be reached by medics. When his son called for artillery support, he was denied. After the battle, Beam said, his son was informed by his superiors that his call for support was denied because the rules of engagement prohibit artillery fire within 500 meters of possibly inhabited buildings.

After making sure his son was all right, Beam e-mailed U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes and Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb..

"I don’t want an insane policy, established by politicians, resulting in my son coming home in a body bag," Beam said in an e-mail.

It was unclear Friday what, if anything, came of Beam’s e-mails to Washington. Jessica Mancari, a spokeswoman for Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, said that office does not comment on constituent casework because of privacy concerns.

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said that office has no record of receiving Beam’s e-mail. The office of Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., did not respond to an inquiry about the matter.

Johnson’s brother and parents could not be reached for comment Friday.

Anmaree Miller and Jennifer McCarthy, high school classmates and friends of Johnson , said that there was never a dull moment with him.

Johnson’s house was the hang-out spot, said Miller, 25, who lived on the same street. All the neighborhood friends, including Johnson’s twin brother and younger brother, would gather and watch surfing videos, listen to music and be typical teens, she said.

He always knew how to make people laugh, McCarthy said.

After graduating from Oregon State University, Johnson went on to what Miller described as his dream career.

"When he was younger he talked about being a Marine," Miller said. "His grandfather was a Marine and it was just something he always wanted to do — especially after Sept. 11."

The last time Miller saw Johnson was about two years ago, when he came home on a visit with his wife, whom he married in 2007.

"He was really positive and he wanted to make a difference in his country," she said. "I think he definitely accomplished that."

Pilot writers Bill Sizemore and Lauren King contributed to this report.

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