A top Defense Department spokesman cautioned Tuesday against second-guesses and rushes to judgment as the shock wears off after this weekend's CH-47 Chinook crash in Afghanistan. Until the various investigations gather all the relevant facts, no one can say whether commanders acted properly or whether the crash could've been prevented, said Marine Col. Dave Lapan.
Although Lapan and other DoD officials have not confirmed this, the Chinook helicopter itself apparently was a regular Army aircraft, not a dedicated special operations bird. Could that mean it may not have been as well equipped for combat as an MH-47E or G model? Why weren't any of those helos involved? Pentagon officials confirm the Army Rangers who called for help from the SEALs suffered no casualties, and were able to break away from their firefight with the Taliban to guard the crash site. So how serious could their situation have been? Was this whole thing a Taliban trap, as Afghan officials have claimed?
"I'm not about to second-guess decisions of commanders on the battlefield," Lapan said. "None of us in this room were there," he told reporters. Only after the various investigations are complete -- the Army's into the crash of the helicopter and ISAF's and SOCOM's into the overall incident -- will all the facts be in, he said.
Some things are already clear: DoD officials say they're "reviewing" whether to keep using Chinooks around Taliban firefights, but they don't have much of a choice: The powerful, twin-engined helicopters are the among only ways for troops to reach the high altitudes where they need to operate, and there'll be no replacing them anytime soon -- we all know how good the Army is at buying new helicopters. Besides, for the most part, they and the rest of the rotary wing fleet have been able to operate in Afghanistan safely.
That fact could be one thing contributing to a tendency for blame-finding or second-guessing: American troops make thousands upon thousands of flights a year in the war zone without a scratch, even when they're going in and out of combat. And in battle, U.S. helicopters are supposed to be the ones dealing out the damage, not taking it. But if you fly big helicopters low enough, slow enough, for long enough, the chances get better and better that one of them will run into trouble.
Another contributing factor is special operators' reputations as the ultimate stone-cold warriors. How could the guys who killed Osama bin Laden put themselves into a situation that could go so bad? Or there's a flip side to that coin: Are these guys hot-headed adrenaline junkies who have no oversight or accountability, and did they charge headlong into danger without thinking things through? Did they buy their own hype and forget the potential consequences?
It could be weeks, months -- or never -- before the public gets answers to any of these questions.