In a detailed account of the firefight, U.S. Central Command Friday dismissed allegations that air and ground support was delayed or lacking in the Marjah operation in Afghanistan in which a Green Beret staff sergeant was killed.
Air Force Col. Pat Ryder, a spokesman for Centcom in Tampa, specifically denied that an AC-130 gunship was late to the fight, was told not to fire and then was told to fire into an empty field under the rules of engagement to avoid collateral damage.
"It absolutely did fire" to back up U.S. and Afghan forces in combat with the Taliban, Ryder said of the AC-130. Ryder said he was aware of allegations that the gunship was "somehow prevented from responding quickly, and that's just not accurate.
"The AC-130 was able to respond very quickly and provide that support" along with 12 airstrikes by other aircraft that killed dozens of Taliban, Ryder said.
Ryder also denied that a quick reaction force on the ground was delayed for hours until nightfall after Army Special Forces Staff Sergeant Matthew Q. McClintock was killed and two other U.S. troops were wounded. He said that a joint force of about 100 Afghan and U.S. troops already on the ground was immediately formed and went into action.
Ryder's denials followed on those of Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook and U.S. military spokesmen in Kabul in response to charges of delays and overly strict observance of the rules of engagement by Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, and others. Zinke said that his information on the allegedly slow and lax response came from the "Special Operations community."
Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the congressman, declined comment when asked whether Zinke's sources were active duty in Afghanistan or others who passed on second and third-hand information.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter Thursday, Zinke and eight other members of the House Armed Services Committee asked for a briefing from Carter on the Marjah operation and the circumstances surrounding McClintock's death. Swift also said that Zinke would call for a congressional hearing if Carter declined to give a briefing.
"Reports that assets were denied or even delayed, represents a critical failure of the command and such negligence erodes the confidence and the morale of the service personnel," the letter said.
Zinke and the other panel members called on Carter to answer whether "at any point during the firefight did the current rules of engagement restrict the immediate use of assets on hand? Has there been any consideration in altering the current rules of engagement to be less restrictive in the future?"
In a telephone briefing to the Pentagon from Tampa, Ryder said that the Marjah operation in Afghanistan's southwestern Helmand province was part of a months-long, counteroffensive by the Afghan National Security Forces against Taliban gains in central Helmand.
McClintock, 30, originally of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and his Special Forces team were working with the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps in a train, advise and assist role in clearing compounds near Marjah, Ryder said.
In the course of the operation, a U.S. soldier was wounded, Ryder said, but he could not immediately give details on how the soldier came under fire. Two Army HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters were sent to medevac the soldier but one was waved off because of ground fire and the other was disabled in trying to land when a rotor blade hit a compound wall, Ryder said.
McClintock and others went into action to secure a second landing zone and quickly came under fire. He was killed and a second U.S. soldier was wounded, Ryder said.
McClintock was married and had a three-month old son. In a post to the GoFundMe page dedicated to him, his wife, Alexandra, wrote that "Yesterday, I lost the love of my life, Declan lost his father, we all lost a loved one.
"Matthew's greatest wish was to be a father, a husband and a Green Beret. He got to do all of those things in his too short life. Declan will grow up knowing his father was the greatest man I've ever dreamed to know and a hero."