Former Special Forces officer: Gen. 'Mad Dog' Mattis left 'my men to die'

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A former Army Special Forces officer is accusing retired Marine General James Mattis, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be defense secretary, of "leaving my men to die" after they were hit by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2001.

Mattis has not commented publicly on the incident, which was chronicled in a 2011 New York Times bestselling book, "The Only Thing Worthy Dying For," by Eric Blehm. The book portrays Mattis as stubbornly unwilling to help the Green Berets.

His actions, which were not formally investigated at the time, are now likely to get far more scrutiny during the retired general's Senate confirmation process.

Trump's transition team did not respond to request for comment from NBC News. Nor did Mattis, whose 2013 retirement from the military means he would need a waiver from Congress to serve as the civilian Pentagon chief.

Mattis is a highly decorated former wartime commander who became famous for leading the 1st Marine Division's lightning fast movement into Baghdad during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
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19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis

"You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it's going to be bad."

Mattis has often talked to Marine leaders about staying sharp.

The "dream world" he mentioned is a reference to a complacent attitude, and it's one that can cost lives if troops aren't vigilant.

(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

"If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don't take the shot. Don't create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act."

As a coauthor of the military's counterinsurgency manual (with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus), Mattis has often spoken about following the rules of engagement and being disciplined against a ruthless enemy.

REUTERS/Mike Blake 

"I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*** with me, I'll kill you all."

After the initial Iraq invasion, "Chaos" (his radio call sign) sent home his tanks and artillery and used the "carrot and the stick" with Iraqi tribal leaders.

 (Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a--holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim."

Addressing his Marines at an air base in Iraq, he tried to motivate them to stay sharp and continue the mission.

He ended the speech, telling them in Patton-esque fashion, "I feel sorry for every son of a b**** that doesn't get to serve with you."

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."

One of his "words to live by" for his Marines in Iraq, which was a call for his troops to remain vigilant and never let their guard down even in the company of those who seem friendly.

In a country where insurgents would blend into the local populace with ease, it was good advice.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"We've backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I'm going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years."

Mattis demonstrates that he is willing to extend an olive branch to those on the fence — while carrying the weight of Marine firepower if that doesn't work out.

This quote is often shared among Mattis fans for its almost Spartan-like delivery.

 ( CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

"I don't lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word."

The general has always been confident in his abilities and that of his Marines.

He led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade into Afghanistan in 2001 and the 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, and he led an operation into Fallujah in 2004 dubbed "Operation Vigilant Resolve." He also helped to plan the later "Operation Phantom Fury."

His success in battle and strategic genius has earned him an almost godlike status among Marines.

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

 "A country that armed Stalin to defeat Hitler can certainly work alongside enemies of Al Qaeda to defeat Al Qaeda."

The general is a student of history and an avid reader.

He often stresses the importance of education and training on building effective future leaders.

 (Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)

"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."

Some Mattis quotes don't come without a degree of controversy, including this one.

Mattis said this while speaking about his time on the ground in Afghanistan, but he was later counseled by his boss, Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee, who said "he should have chosen his words more carefully."

REUTERS/Gary Cameron 

 "In this age, I don't care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines."

Mattis wants educated leaders who can both be book smart and be able to get the job done.

REUTERS/Jim Hollander CLH/

"Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they're so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact."

Mattis believes the battlefield is better off being far from American shores.

(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

 

"Treachery has existed as long as there's been warfare, and there's always been a few people that you couldn't trust."

In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, alliances can often shift quickly.

Mattis spoke with Congress on this point after a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks that left military leaders struggling to find a solution.

 (Photo credit should read ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images)

 "Fight with a happy heart."

Before heading into Iraq in 2003, all Marines of the 1st Marine Division received a letter from General Mattis.

In the letter, he spoke candidly to his troops, telling them "we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression."

AFP PHOTO/ Chris KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)

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On December 5, 2001, as the wreckage of the twin towers still smoldered in lower Manhattan, a team of Army Green Berets accompanying Hamid Karzai, the future president of Afghanistan, was hit by a U.S. smart bomb in a case of friendly fire.

Two American soldiers died instantly and a third was badly wounded. He would later die. Dozens of Afghans also were killed, and the CIA officer who now runs the agency's spying arm protected Karzai with his body.

Mattis, then a brigadier general commanding a nearby group of Marines, refused repeated requests to send helicopters to rescue the Green Berets, people involved in the operation tell NBC News. The helicopters under Mattis' command at Camp Rhino were about 45 minutes away, according to the book.

And, as commander, Mattis had final approval for the decision not to dispatch a rescue mission from there.

"He was indecisive and betrayed his duty to us, leaving my men to die during the golden hour when he could have reached us," Jason Amerine, who led the Army special forces operation as a captain, said in a Facebook post Friday morning.

"Every element in Afghanistan tried to help us except the closest friendly unit, commanded by Mattis," added Amerine, who retired as a lieutenant colonel and made news in recent years as a prominent critic of the Obama administration's hostage policies.

The 15th anniversary of the Afghanistan friendly fire incident is Monday. Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Henry Petithory, 32; and Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, were killed.

Ultimately, an Air Force Special Forces unit based three hours away, in Pakistan, sent older helicopters to rescue Amerine and his men. Three more Afghans and a badly-wounded American, Brian Cody Prosser, died on the way to the hospital, according to the book. It is not known whether any of them could have been saved.

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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions
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Trump's official picks for Cabinet and administration positions

Counselor to the President: Kellyanne Conway

REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Veterans Affairs Secretary: David Shulkin

(Photo credit DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)

Transportation secretary: Elaine Chao

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Energy secretary: Rick Perry

(Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson

 REUTERS/Daniel Kramer

Secretary of Defense: Retired Marine General James Mattis

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Chief of staff: Reince Priebus

(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Chief strategist: Steve Bannon

(EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General: Senator Jeff Sessions

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Director of the CIA: Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Deputy national security adviser: K.T. McFarland

(Photo by Michael Schwartz/Getty Images)

White House counsel: Donald McGahn

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ambassador to the United Nations: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley

(Photo by Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Education secretary: Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Commerce secretary: Wilbur Ross

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Homeland security secretary: General John Kelly

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Housing and urban development secretary: Ben Carson

(Photo credit NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Administrator of Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Health and human services secretary: Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Department of Homeland Security: Retired General John Kelly

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Secretary of agriculture: Sonny Perdue

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Mattis declined to be interviewed for the book, Blehm, its author, told NBC News. Other witnesses quoted Mattis saying that he didn't want to send a rescue mission into an uncertain situation.

According to witness accounts in the book, Mattis reportedly questioned why a rescue mission was needed and worried about whether the situation on the ground was secure.

Later, when a special forces Sergeant, David Lee, protested his decision, Mattis threw him out of his office, Blehm wrote.

The Obama administration was criticized for years by many Republicans—including Vice President-elect Mike Pence — for failing to mount a military rescue when a diplomatic post was attacked in 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, despite military officials saying no rescue was possible.

In this case, another military unit had to act because Mattis did not, Blehm said.

"The Air Force Special Operations Command had the same exact information as Mattis. They launched immediately," he said.

Blehm spent three years researching the book, including a long interview with Karzai, he told NBC News.

He interviewed six of the surviving eleven Green Berets involved in the operation.

"Every one of them said, when they were this mass casualty situation, either wounded tending to the wounded of their buddies, every one of them were thinking, where in the hell are the Marines?"

In his Facebook post, Amerine — who declined to speak on the record to NBC News — said it was ironic that Mattis later became famous for relieving a battalion commander for alleged indecisiveness during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

"The delay of Mattis in launching MEDEVAC on December 5th was never in question, not even by him," Amerine said. "The only debate was whether it was justified and how many died as a result."

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