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Retired Green Beret says Mattis left 'my men to die' in Afghanistan

By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 2, 2016

WASHINGTON – A retired Green Beret officer alleged Friday that Gen. James Mattis, who has been nominated to be the next defense secretary, hesitated to send medical evacuation flights and left soldiers to die during a 2001 friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

Retired Lt. Col. Jason Amerine, in a Facebook post, said a delay by Mattis in sending rescue aircraft from a nearby base might have led to the deaths of Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser and at least two Afghans after they were hit by a U.S. bomb outside of Kandahar.

“He was indecisive and betrayed his duty to us, leaving my men to die during the golden hour when he could have reached us,” wrote Amerine, who is a future of war fellow at the New America think tank in Washington, D.C.

President-elect Donald Trump announced Thursday that he picked Mattis for defense secretary, a move that raised cheers from a military community where the retired general is widely respected and popular.

Mattis, whose nickname is Mad Dog, has 44 years of Marine Corps infantry experience that included leading troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and a reputation for colorful comments about warfare.

The Senate must still confirm Mattis and issue a waiver because of a rule requiring any defense secretary to be at least seven years out of military service. Mattis retired in 2013 after leading U.S. Central Command and the allegations by Amerine could come up again as his nomination works through Congress.

So far, the general has support from many lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Armed Services Committee who promised a quick hearing on the nomination next year.

The 2001 friendly fire incident, which was chronicled in the book The Only Thing Worth Dying For, occurred while Mattis was in command of Camp Rhino in southern Afghanistan where aircraft were stationed. Amerine was leading a group of 10 Special Forces soldiers.

The Green Berets were with future Afghan President Hamid Karzai and were helping to bring about an initial Taliban surrender when the bomb struck.

“Every element in Afghanistan tried to help us except the closest friendly unit, commanded by Mattis,” wrote Amerine, who was awarded a Bronze Star with V device and a Purple Heart for his service during the mission. “Men were ready to drive to get us or send horses from the other side of the country if that was what it took.”

At the time, Mattis was reluctant to send aircraft without knowing the situation on the ground, according to an account in The Only Thing Worth Dying For.

“Well, if they’ve taken fire and you can’t tell me definitively how they got all scuffed up, I’m not going to send anything until you can assure me that the situation on the ground is secure,” Mattis is quoted as saying.

The Air Force Special Operations Command dispatched helicopters from Pakistan that took hours to arrive and fly the soldiers and others wounded in the blast to Camp Rhino, which was 45 minutes away, according to Amerine, a whistleblower who was recently investigated by the Army for questioning the FBI’s hostage negotiating tactics with Congress. He was later cleared of wrongdoing.

Mattis set helicopters under his command to help with the evacuation after the Air Force medevacs arrived at Rhino, “covering our first load of wounded in dust from their rotor wash as they launched,” Amerine wrote.

“Cody died around the time we reached Rhino and I was told at least two Afghans died because of the delay but nobody knows for certain,” he wrote.

tritten.travis@stripes.com
Twitter: @Travis_Tritten
  

Lt. Col. Jason Amerine testifies at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2015.
RICK VASQUEZ/STARS AND STRIPES

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