WASHINGTON — Relatives of several U.S. troops killed during a 2009 Afghanistan battle that led to a Medal of Honor award last week are questioning whether some Army officers got off too easy for mistakes that led to the deaths of five American military personnel.
In interviews for CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, the mother of a Marine and the wife of an Army sergeant killed in the September 2009 firefight in the Ganjgal Valley said reprimands given to two Army officers in an internal inquiry were not enough punishment. The inquiry concluded that poor pre-mission planning led to delays in adequate support fire against Taliban forces that had U.S. units pinned down.
Last week, President Barack Obama awarded former Marine Dakota Meyer the nation’s top military honor for saving 36 lives with repeated charges into Taliban gunfire during the battle.
Susan Price, the mother of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, who died during the firefight, told CBS she was unhappy with official reprimands that followed a 2010 military inquiry into U.S. planning and decisions during the battle.
Charlene Westbrook, widow of Army Sgt. Kenneth Westbrook, who died from his wounds after the firefight, said mistakes made during the battle were caused by negligence. She also criticized the military’s follow-up.
“These letters of reprimand are just clearly slaps on the wrist,” Westbrook said. “These officers need to be court-martialed.”
In February 2010, a Joint Task Force of the Afghanistan International Security Assistance Force released findings and recommendations from an investigation into the Ganjgal Valley firefight. During the battle, 100 Afghan security troops and U.S. advisers fought off a force of 100 to 150 Taliban militants. Along with the five U.S. dead — three Marines, the Army sergeant and a Navy corpsman — eight Afghan soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed.
The inquiry revealed that “appropriate personnel were not involved with the critical pre-mission planning of fire and air support. This, coupled with the severity of the situation, resulted in a delay in receiving timely support.”
During the six-hour battle, Meyer ignored orders to stay put and drove repeatedly into the line of fire, firing from a Humvee along with another Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross. Meyer was wounded, but he killed at least eight Taliban insurgents, according to accounts of the firefight.