Interviewed by military investigators five days after the battle, Swenson implicitly criticized top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan by blasting their rules of engagement. Angered that his repeated calls for artillery and air support were denied during the ambush, he charged that in trying to prevent civilian casualties for political reasons, the rules were costing U.S. soldiers’ lives.
“We are not looking at the ground fighter and why he is using these air assets,” Swenson said, according to a transcript obtained by McClatchy. “We just reduced an asset that’s politically unpopular. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there saying, ‘I would really like that asset.’ There are probably a lot of people who got killed as a result of not having that asset.”
“I’m not a politician. I’m just the guy on the ground asking for that ammunition to be dropped because it’s going to save lives,” he continued.
Further, several key parts of the Army’s draft account of Swenson’s deeds – a central pillar of a nomination file – conflict with the Marines’ account of Meyer’s acts.
The Army’s version, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, said it was Swenson – not Meyer – who led the recovery of U.S. and Afghan casualties from the Ganjgal Valley.
“The need for a ground recovery of all remaining casualties had now become clear,” the Army’s draft narrative said. “Facing this extreme and dire circumstance, and going above and beyond the call of duty, CPT Swenson gathered available combat power to lead a return up the wash.”
The Army’s draft narrative also corroborated the reporting of a McClatchy correspondent who survived the ambush that the belated arrival of U.S. helicopters had allowed trapped American personnel to escape, and that they weren’t saved by Meyer.
“A team of scout helicopters . . . arrived in the valley. CPT Swenson . . . began to talk the aircrafts’ fires onto the various enemy targets,” the draft narrative said. “The enemy sporadically engaged coalition forces while they were overhead. This provided (Swenson and those with him) the slim opportunity they needed” to pull back.
The problem of conflicting narratives would have been eliminated with the quiet death of Swenson’s nomination, which was put in some two months before Meyer was nominated.
Clearing Meyer’s award would have pacified Marine leaders who blamed Marine casualties on the Army’s failure to provide timely air and ground support. Moreover, they were angered by the first investigation of the battle – conducted solely by the Army – which they considered unbalanced. And then the Army nominated one of its own for the Medal of Honor.
After receiving an official inquiry about its status in July 2011, Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, resubmitted Swenson’s nomination when a duplicate packet was found outside the computerized awards system. Allen also ordered the investigation into what happened to the original.
Swenson’s replacement nomination, submitted about the same time that Obama signed off on Meyer’s decoration, is believed to have been approved by the Army’s leadership and is awaiting a review by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta before being passed to Obama for final action. George Little, a spokesman for Panetta, declined to discuss the case.