President Obama will award the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military honor, to Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers for protecting a U.S. doctor from Taliban gunfire during a rescue operation in Afghanistan.
The senior chief “was the second one through the door as his SEAL Team Six unit raided a Taliban hide-out where an American doctor was held hostage,” reports USA Today.
“Inside, he saw an unknown man darting for the corner of the room. Not knowing whether the man was a militant grabbing a gun or a hostage diving for cover, Byers tackled him to the floor,” it adds. “When Byers heard the hostage identify himself, he threw himself on top of the doctor to protect him from gunfire, even as he pinned the enemy against the wall with his hand to the enemy’s throat.”
The Washington Post reports that the other SEALs killed the remaining Taliban terrorists as Byers lay atop the doctor.
Five Taliban fighters were killed during the December 2012 raid. However, the first member of the fabled SEAL Team Six in the door, identified as Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, was shot in the head.
Senior Chief Byer’s commendation notes that “his courageous actions while serving as part of a team that rescued an American civilian being held hostage in Afghanistan, December 8-9, 2012.”
Byer’s role in the mission was “a tightly held secret until Tuesday” when the Obama administration revealed that the president will present the Medal of Honor to the hero on Feb. 29.
“The awarding of the Medal of Honor provides a unique view into the mission in 2012 to rescue the American doctor and how the elite and secretive Navy SEAL unit operates,” points out USA Today.
An unclassified summary of the mission revealed that U.S. commanders organized a rescue team four days after learning that Taliban hostage Dr. Dilip Joseph, a medical director for a faith-based Colorado non-profit group building medial clinics across Afghanistan, might be moved to Pakistan.
In early December 2012, the Taliban took the doctor for ransom along with his driver and translator, reports the Post.
In his book, Kidnapped by the Taliban: A Story of Terror, Hope and Rescue by SEAL Team Six, Dr. Joseph writes that the night of his rescue he awoke with a runny nose and to the sound of a dog barking and bleating sheep.
Minutes later, his captors were dead and Byers was helping him board a helicopter.
“The whole operation lasted two minutes,” Joseph told the Post. “The only time we had to wait was for the helicopter to pick us up.”
“Byers and other medics attempted to perform CPR on Checque during the ride to Bagram Airfield, where Checque, 28, was pronounced dead,” declares USA Today.
Citing a report by The New York Times that highlighted discrepancies between the doctor’s recollection and the official account, USA Today reports that the mission has been controversial.
“Joseph said that after the shooting stopped, he saw one of the Taliban fighters — a 19-year-old he called Wallakah, whom he had tried to bond with during his captivity — alive, unhurt and apparently subdued. When he returned inside to wait for the helicopter, Wallakah was dead,” notes the report. “The Pentagon has disputed that account.”
“In an interview with USA TODAY, Joseph portrayed mixed feelings in an attempt to reconcile his overwhelming gratitude to the SEALs with the surgical, fatal nature of the operation,” it adds. “It’s that contradiction — the compassion and selflessness of these highly trained special operations forces — that left the most lasting impression of SEAL Team Six.”
Byers graduated from the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Training class in 2002, when retired Navy SEAL Commander Ryan Zinke was the class’ overseeing executive officer.
“I’ve put a lot of young men through BUD/S. They are all exemplary individuals who embody the SEAL mantra ‘Never Quit’,” said Zinke, a decorated 23-year U.S. Navy SEAL veteran, in a statement. “Senior Chief Byers’ heroism represents the highest degree of commitment to mission success and unyielding perseverance in the face of a determined enemy.”
“He is truly America’s best and his heroic actions are a testament to both the extraordinary talent of our elite warriors and their willingness to sacrifice for our great nation,” he added. “May God bless those who deliver us from evil. I commend him and his unit for the successful mission.”
Zinke spent half his career with SEAL Team SIX.