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Chicago Marine details deadly Taliban raid on Camp Bastion

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The ABC7 I-Team investigates the surprise attack on a U.S. military compound, but it's not the deadly assault in Washington Monday. The I-Team has an exclusive look at an insurgent raid of Camp Bastion in Afghanistan one year ago.

They are disasters 12 months and worlds apart, but both cases raise a similar question of military security: could it have been prevented?

The I-Team has learned that U.S. Central Command finished its classified investigation of the battle at Camp Bastion. When it is released in a few weeks, expect a harsh review of how Taliban fighters managed to invade a major allied base in Afghanistan.

At 10 p.m. on September 14, 2012, Camp Bastion was presumed to be safe and sound. At 10:01, it had exploded into a fog of flames and gunfire.

"We took off running towards the explosion, to the sound of the chaos," said Staff Sgt. Gustavo Delgado, Chicago Marine.

Chicago native and Marine Staff Sergeant Gustavo Delgado was one of the first to engage the enemy, 15 Taliban fighters who had breached the perimeter and made it past guard towers.

"As we got there we started receiving fire from the Taliban. The biggest confusion was because they were wearing the Army uniforms," said Staff Sgt. Delgado.

After a six-hour firefight, the incursion was put down. But eight Harrier attack jets worth $200 million were destroyed, the worst loss of U.S. airpower in a single incident since Vietnam, and two marines were dead from the shrapnel of rocket propelled grenades.

"There were concerns of security," said Deborah Hatheway, Sgt. Atwell's aunt.

Deborah Hatheway is the aunt of Sergeant Brad Atwell, 27, of Kokomo, Ind. Hatheway says the military gave their family little information and no truthful answers.

"They had warning signs," said Hatheway. "The Taliban had gave out earlier warnings."

This video posted after the attack on a jihadist website shows Taliban leaders planning and training; mapping out the unmanned guard towers, marking warplane locations and practicing cutting through fencing-all were part of a perfectly executed suicide mission.

"We would never expect anything like this and we really didn't train for something of this sort," said Staff Sgt. Delgado.

From his current Marine assignment in California, Staff Sgt. Delgado tells me that he never disclosed to his family back here in Logan Square about the battle he fought, despite having no battle plan.

"The type of training we received whenever, if we did get attacked, was to just get inside the bunkers. So, we weren't really prepared for it," said Staff Sgt. Delgado.

"I basically smelled a skunk in the woods. I knew something was not right about this," said Hatheway.

With her nephew's funeral still fresh in mind, Sgt. Atwell's aunt pressed for a full Pentagon investigation of whether base officials were negligent.

"This looks like a pretty simple failure. We failed to guard our own troops," said Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Indiana.

Rep. Todd Rokita is the Indiana congressman for Atwell's hometown, where streets were lined for the Marine's funeral. Rep. Rokita awaits the classified report that will determine whether American personnel are accountable for the lives and equipment lost.

"The months leading up to the attack, we know that the security around the perimeter of the joint base was lessened ... On its face it looks like a failure of leadership," said Rep. Rokita.

The base leader at the time was two-star Marine General Charles Gurganus, who is expected to be the focus of the Pentagon report. Gen. Gurganus implemented base budget cuts and is already the target of some marine families, angry that a formal investigation took eight months to begin.

"In my opinion you can slap stars on a man's chest but that doesn't make him a general," said Hatheway.

Under Gen. Gurganus during the drawdown of American forces last year, some guard towers went unmanned or featured plastic dummies according to numerous military sources. That didn't fool the Taliban, who broke in under such a tower. The general was up for another star last spring. It has been put on hold until this investigation is made public.

Chuck's Q&A with Central Command regarding Marines

I-Team: When we were conducting interviews for this story, one of the family members of one of the Marines killed in the attack mentioned a Pentagon report that was released in February regarding the attack. Is any part of that report public? If so, can you please provide a copy?

Military: You may be referring to a review conducted by International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) Regional Command (Southwest) (RC(SW)). They conducted a "Joint Review Board Initial Report of Administrative Inquiry" in September 2012, and also completed a supplemental review of the attack in January 2013. These reviews focused on the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack, the response, and force protection. Neither report is publicly releasable as both are classified.

I-Team: Why weren't Marine's at Camp Leatherneck/Camp Bastion trained specifically to respond to a base-breaching attack?

Military: I encourage you to review the final investigation when it is released. Regardless, training is a service responsibility, so I must also refer you to the U.S. Marine Corps to address your question.

I-Team: Were the security towers closest to the Taliban entry point staffed at the time of the incursion? If not, why? Were all other towers staffed? Were there plastic dummies in the towers closest to the Taliban entry point? Why were Tongan soldiers being used for perimeter security? Has it been determined where the intruders obtained U.S. military uniforms? If so, where? The Taliban is seen in videos planning the attack, including intricate maps of the base and training by cutting through wire. Was this an intelligence failure as much as a security failure?

Military: In regards to your questions, it would be premature to comment on any findings, recommendations, or possible actions related to CENTCOM's investigation of the attack. After notification briefings to stakeholders (to include family members) and a security review, an unclassified version of CENTCOM's investigation report will be made available to the public.

I-Team: Why wasn't an investigation of the September 14, 2012 attack convened until May 22, 2013?

Military: As mentioned above, ISAF RC(SW) conducted two reviews, which focused on the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack, the response, and force protection. These reviews were followed by a CENTCOM review of force protection at the BLS Complex in March 2013. Subsequently, based upon his own determination and a request from the Marine Corps Commandant received on 22 May 13, U.S. Central Command commander Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III directed an investigation to begin that month to determine potential accountability of U.S. personnel in relation to the attack on the Bastion-Leatherneck-Shorabak (BLS) Complex. On Sept. 16, Gen. Austin approved the findings and recommendations of that investigation and the report was provided to the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant for further action as appropriate.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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