Macedonian Army and Police special forces perform an exercise after finishing their three-week training with the U.S. Navy SEALs in Skopje, Macedonia February 13, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
A platoon of Navy SEALs — some of the most elite fighters in the US military — are being sent back home early from fighting ISIS in Iraq after the platoon members all refused to cooperate with an investigation into allegations of a sexual assault and reports that some members had been drinking alcohol while deployed.
US Special Operations Command, the military organization that oversees America’s special forces missions around the world, made that stunning announcement Wednesday night on Twitter.
It stated that the head of special operators fighting ISIS in Iraq, Air Force Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, had ordered the SEALs’ early return to their San Diego base “due to a perceived deterioration of good order and discipline within the team during non-operational periods.”
Reports since that somewhat cryptic statement were released have provided more details. Evidently, members of Foxtrot Platoon, which is part of SEAL Team 7, were drinking alcohol during an Independence Day celebration in Iraq. That’s a major no-no, as official orders say that troops can’t drink while deployed, even in their downtime.
And on Thursday night, the New York Times reported that a senior member of the platoon had been accused of raping a female service member attached to the unit. When commanders asked platoon members about the drinking and the alleged assault, the entire platoon reportedly chose to invoke their right to remain silent and refused to cooperate with the investigation.
That prompted the leadership to take the extraordinary step of sending the entire platoon — the only SEALs operating in Iraq — home.
As of Thursday, the 19 SEALs and four support troops were in Kuwait waiting to head back to their home base in California; the unit is now under investigation.
Geoffrey Corn, a 21-year Army veteran and military justice expert at South Texas College of Law Houston I spoke to before the new rape allegations emerged, told me that it’s hard to know what the next steps in the probe will be, but that some of the unit leaders may end up being relieved of their command and that other members of the platoon could face reprimands or judicial punishment.
It’s a bad look for a group of warriors that over the past decade has achieved almost celebrity status in America for their daring exploits, many of which have been glamorized by Hollywood.
What’s worse, the troubling development adds to a growing list of scandals the SEAL community has found itself embroiled in recently that have begun to tarnish the image of the elite fighting force.