US Central Command is blasting claims that air support was delayed and limited in supporting US and Afghan troops during a Jan. 5 attack in Marjah District, Afghanistan, that killed one soldier and wounded two more. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), a former Navy SEAL, is leading an investigation into the incident, and claims air support from an Air Force AC-130 gunship was waived off. CENTCOM spokesman Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder told reporters during a Jan. 8 briefing that the AC-130 and other assets conducted 12 airstrikes during the battle, killing dozens of Taliban fighters. The aircraft and a quick reaction force (QRF) responded with “minimal delay” to the battle, Ryder said. However, Zinke said in a statement the QRF was delayed due to “bureaucratic hurdles.” Ryder, on Friday, also provided more detail on the battle. The US team was nearby in the closest “covered and concealed” position during the clearing operation when one soldier was injured by enemy fire. An HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter called in to evacuate the wounded was damaged when a rotor blade struck a wall, forcing the team to move to another position and establish another landing zone. It was during this movement when the team again came under fire and SSgt. Matthew McClintock was killed and the second US soldier and four Afghan troops were wounded, Ryder said.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.