ASMAR, Afghanistan -- Nine Afghan soldiers who survived a 2009 battle that brought the first Medal of Honor to a living Marine since the Vietnam War have disputed the official accounts of how Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer won the countrys highest military decoration.
The Afghans, whom U.S. military officials never interviewed , contradict key details of the narratives cited by President Barack Obama and the Marine Corps in awarding the decoration to Meyer for his actions during a battle that took place in the Ganjgal Valley in Afghanistan three years ago this past weekend.
The Afghans said that Meyer, who received the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony on Sept. 15, 2011, couldnt have killed up to eight insurgents as they charged his Humvee and that he didnt twice vault from the vehicle to load up two dozen Afghan soldiers and drive them to safety. They also insisted that it was the belated arrival of U.S. helicopters not Meyers intervention that ended the Taliban ambush, allowing the withdrawal of U.S. and Afghan troops whod been trapped in the valley.
The Afghans didnt dispute that Meyer, of Greensburg, Ky., whos now a 24-year-old sergeant in the Marine reserves, risked his life by braving enemy fire in helping U.S. and Afghan personnel recover the bodies of four American servicemen.
Questions about what Meyer did during the battle touch on the rigor and integrity of a military awards process thats supposed to leave no margin of doubt or possibility of error in granting the nations highest military honor. A McClatchy investigation published last December showed that many of the feats attributed to Meyer by the Marine Corps and the White House were embellished or invented and werent substantiated by sworn statements from Meyer himself and others who participated in the battle.
McClatchy raised more questions about the process in August, when it revealed that another Medal of Honor nomination from the same battle, for former Army Capt. William Swenson, conflicted with parts of the official narratives of Meyers achievements.
Swensons nomination mysteriously disappeared from military computers, though it was reinstated eventually and is awaiting Obamas approval. Under normal circumstances, according to Pentagon regulations, that approval had to come by last Saturday, the third anniversary of the battle, but Pentagon officials say that because the original nomination went awry the president has two more years to make a decision.
Questions about whether the Marines embellished Meyers feats came against a backdrop of pressure on the Pentagon over how Medals of Honor have been handled during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with many in Congress, veterans groups and the military complaining that too few had been granted. The Marine Corps reportedly also was frustrated by what it saw as insufficient acknowledgement of its sacrifices in both conflicts.
The Afghan survivors of the battle, however, have no stake in the outcome of discussions of Meyers feats, making their recollections valuable in sorting through conflicting information.
More is at stake than the military awards process. Meyers forthcoming book, for which he shared a six-figure advance, according to a publishing industry executive who requested anonymity because he wasnt authorized to discuss it, contains new details about his actions, according to a report Aug. 20 in the Marine Corps Times, which obtained an advance copy of the book. They include a claim that Meyer killed an insurgent with a rock in hand-to-hand combat, something that isnt mentioned in any official account or military document.