The father of a Marine captain killed by an “insider attack” in Afghanistan said Friday that his son’s love and respect for the Afghan people inspired his mission to train and advise the locals to stand up to the Taliban.
“He really thought he was making a difference there,” Socrates “Pete” Manoukian said of his son, Special Operations Capt. Matthew P. Manoukian. “He loved the Marine Corps, loved what he was doing. He loved the Afghans.”
The elder Manoukian spoke on the eve of a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Calif., for the posthumous award of the Navy Cross, the nation’s second highest award for valor, to Capt. Manoukian and Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote, both members of Marine Special Operations Team 8133.
Manoukian, 29, of Los Altos Hills, Calif.; Mote, 27, of El Dorado, Calif.; and Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, 31, of Herndon, Va,, were shot to death on Aug. 10, 2012 by a rogue Afghan national police officer in the volatile Sangin district of southwestern Helmand province.
Jeschke, a 12-year Marine veteran, was quoted in the book “Generation Kill,” by Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright, and was later portrayed in the “Generation Kill” HBO series on the Marines during the Iraq invasion.
It was the worst day of the war for the Marines in Afghanistan in terms of insider, or “green on blue,” attacks by Afghan police and soldiers, or infiltrators wearing their uniforms.
In a separate insider attack on Marines in the Sangin district on Aug. 10, 2012, Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley, 21, of Oceanside, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Scott E. Dickinson, 29, of San Diego; and Cpl. Richard A. Rivera, 20, of Ventura, Calif., were also killed.
Prior to his death, Capt. Manoukian, a veteran of four combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been accepted into law school in hopes of following the example set by his parents, both judges in the California court system.
“He took care of his friends, took care of people. He was just a great kid,” Socrates Manoukian said.
In a statement announcing the Navy Cross awards ceremony, the Marines said that Mote, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, “courageously exposed himself to a hail of gunfire drawing attention away from others and halting the shooter's pursuit of his comrades.”
“In his final act of bravery, he boldly remained in the open and engaged the shooter, no less than five meters in front of him,” the statement said. “He courageously pressed the assault on the enemy until he received further wounds and fell mortally wounded.”
Manoukian was in the Tactical Operations Center when the attack by the gunman with an AK-47 rifle began and shots ripped through the walls and partitions.
“He immediately exposed himself to further enemy fire and commanded his Marines to maneuver to safety as he engaged the enemy,” the statement said. “Manoukian courageously drew heavy fire upon himself, disrupting the enemy pursuit of his comrades and providing them the security needed to get to safety, ultimately saving their lives.”
Socrates Manoukian said he learned later from the Marines that the gunman was an Afghan national police officer who had tried to enter a meeting Manoukian was conducting with the Afghan local police. Capt. Manoukian told the individual that he would have to coordinate first with the local police.
Gunnery Sgt. Jeschke was escorting the Afghan national police officer to another part of the base when the officer turned and shot Jeschke in the back. He then began spraying the TOC with rapid fire from his AK-47. Capt. Manoukian returned fire through the walls with his sidearm, Socrates Manoukian said.
The gunman fled and reportedly was captured a few days later, but Socrates Manoukian said that turned out to be a case of “mistaken identity.”
The father said he tries not to think about his son’s killer being free somewhere in Afghanistan.
“I’ve developed the feeling that I’m not going to stress about it,” Socrates Manoukian said. “He (the gunman) is not worth it to me.”
The deaths of Manoukian and the other Marines on Aug. 10, 2012, came at the height of the insider attacks that were a factor in driving American support for the war to its lowest levels.
Insider attacks peaked in 2012, when the International Security Assistance Force recorded 46 separate insider attacks that killed a total of 62 coalition troops, compared to 21 attacks in 2011 that killed 35.
In 2013, there were 16 deaths coalition deaths in 10 separate insider attacks. Marine Gen. Joseph Osterman, ISAF director of operations, gave credit for the decline to the Afghan National Security Forces.
“They put in much more robust screening processes, education processes, and at the local level, just awareness of soldiers who were potential ‘green-on-blue’ perpetrators,” Osterman said.
The insider attacks are also part of the current dispute between the U.S. and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on signing a new Bilateral Security Agreement to allow a follow-on U.S. and coalition force to remain in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, when all coalition combat forces are scheduled to withdraw.
Over the heated objections of the U.S., Karzai earlier this month ordered the release of 72 detainees who were part of a group of more than 3,000 prisoners turned over by the U.S. last year to Afghan jurisdiction.
At least seven of the 72 detainees are prime suspects in insider attacks that killed U.S. and coalition troops, Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for ISAF commander Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, said last week.