One Year Later: Camp Bastion Families Still Fighting for Truth
Next week, "never forget" will resound across America as citizens mark a dozen years since the 9/11 terrorist attack and one year since the bloody disaster in Benghazi. But who will remember the American heroes who came under siege at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan on 9/14/12?
Two heroic U.S. Marines — Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell — perished in the monstrous battle last year, and nearly a dozen others were injured. What happened at Camp Bastion and whether the Obama administration has learned from the deadly incident are timely questions as Washington prepares for war again in a jihadi-infested region.
And as military families know, there is no such thing as "no boots on the ground."
The families of the fallen at Camp Bastion are still waiting for the results of an official CENTCOM probe into last year's attack. They hear that members of Congress will get briefed on the investigation before the families themselves get the details about what happened to their loved ones — and who bears responsibility for the security lapses that enabled the attack.
Atwell's aunt, Deborah Hatheway, told me: "We are hoping for the best, and that _the attack will always be remembered as one of the most horrific attacks by the Taliban, and that they will never be able to do this again." A Capitol Hill source tells me the report could be ready by the end of the month.
Refresher: Three days after the bloody siege on our consulate in Libya, the Taliban waged an intricately coordinated, brutal attack on Camp Bastion. The base is a British-run NATO compound that adjoins our Marines' Camp Leatherneck. The meticulously coordinated siege by 15 Taliban infiltrators — dressed in American combat fatigues and armed with assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons — resulted in two deaths and the most devastating loss of U.S. airpower since Vietnam.
Six Harrier jets were destroyed; three refueling stations were wiped out; six hangars were damaged. The Taliban animals released video showing their jihadi training prep. The attack came exactly six months after a failed suicide attack targeting then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
As I first reported in June, relatives of the Marines killed in the raid learned on their own that their loved ones were left vulnerable to attack by military leaders who outsourced watchtower security on the base to soldiers from Tonga.
The families zeroed in on Maj. Gen. Charles "Mark" Gurganus, who recently returned to the U.S. after commanding coalition forces in Afghanistan, as the man responsible for shortchanging security at Bastion.
Gurganus is the same one who ordered Marines to disarm — immediately after the failed attack on Panetta — because he wanted them "to look just like our (unarmed) Afghan partners." Neglect of security at Bastion was widely known.
This past weekend, during the Labor Day holiday, military leaders quietly announced that at least four Marines who served with the Harrier squadron that came under fire at Camp Bastion have been awarded the Purple Heart. They are: Maj. Greer Chambless, Lance Cpl. Cole Collums, Sgt. Jonathan Cudo and former Cpl. Matthew Eason. According to the official news release, reported by the Military Times, the Marines were part of the unit that Raible led in a counterattack on the insurgents. Sixteen of the 50 Marines on hand at the time pushed out of the hangar, said Staff Sgt. Jesse Colburn, an ejection seat mechanic who was on the ground during the raid.
Cpl. William Waterstreet reported on the Purple Heart ceremony at the Yuma, Ariz., Marine Corps Air Station: "When the attack began, there were no friendly forces between the Marines of VMA-211 and the insurgents, so it fell to these Marines to act as the first line of defense for Camp Bastion. ... Raible called on his Marines to take up arms and fight with limited ammunition, without body armor, automatic weapons, grenades or support against an enemy force of unknown size, strength or location in the dead of night; his Marines volunteered immediately."
A new article in GQ magazine this month detailed how the courageous "mechanics and pilots turned defenders and riflemen ... undoubtedly prevented a greater catastrophe." Their actions deserve public attention far and wide. And the families deserve accountability. Yet, the Battle Rattle blog of the Military Times website noted something curious: The Marine Corps "did not disclose details about the Aug. 1 Purple Heart ceremony until nearly a month later." The news was buried on a holiday weekend. President Obama has breathed not a word. Why?
September 11 was supposed to have taught us to collect the dots and connect the dots, to never underestimate Koran-inspired jihadi warriors, and to never subvert our security to indulge deadly political correctness. From 9/11 to Fort Hood to Benghazi to Bastion, it's not whether we've forgotten that matters most. It's whether we have learned.