Navy SEAL Team Six (DEVGRU) operators rescued Dilip Joseph from his Taliban captors in Afghanistan shortly after midnight on Dec. 9, 2012. On Feb. 29, 2016. President Obama awarded Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Byers the Medal of Honor for his part in the mission.
Joseph made 10 trips to Afghanistan beginning in 2008. As the medical director of Morning Star Development, a non-profit group that trains health care workers in Afghanistan, he spent much of his time in rural villages.
He was well aware of the danger from the Taliban but managed to avoid any direct contact, until his last, horrifying trip.
After spending the morning of December 5, 2012 at a remote medical clinic, Joseph, his Afghan interpreter and an Afghan colleague were driving down a road, returning to their base in Kabul, when suddenly a man armed with an AK-47 stepped out from a hiding place.
They were driven to a nearby valley, then forced at gunpoint to hike high into the mountains where captors demanded a ransom of $300,000. Joseph knew that was impossible.
“I knew almost certainly that I was going to die, and so I didn’t want to be, excuse the language, pissed off right before I was about to die,” he said.
So he decided to take a chance and talk to his Taliban tormentors through his interpreter. Most responded with threats of violence. But a 19-year-old named Wallakah wanted to talk.
“After hearing my life story, he kind of opened up about his own life story,” Joseph explained. “He said, ‘all I’ve seen in my life is killing people. This is all that I’ve seen from my father.'”
On Saturday afternoon, December 8, the captors moved Dilip to a one-story home at the base of a mountain. Shortly after midnight, Dilip woke up to wipe his nose. Wide-awake, he laid on the floor listening to the peaceful sounds of the night. He heard a dog barking followed by the bleating of a sheep. He thought the livestock were just being restless.
Dilip started to doze off until the sound of a gunshot broke the silence. The Taliban scrambled while loud voices commanded them to stand and put their hands up. Dilip didn’t realize that he was being rescued by US Navy SEALs. One of the American commandos helped him out of the house.
“They were all dead. I felt an overwhelming wave of sadness,” says Dilip. “In one of the lowest moments of my life, some had even shown me unexpected compassion.”
While Dilip was being rescued, Wallakah shot the first Navy SEAL who burst in the room.
“The man had taken the lead in rescuing me,” says Dilip. “Here in front of me was the cost of his service.” A large helicopter loaded Dilip and the SEALs and transported them to a military airbase. While valiant efforts were made to save his life, the Navy SEAL later died from his injuries
Joseph’s Rescue Reconstruction
12:20 a.m. Joseph, surrounded by Taliban guards, awakens from sleep. Two guards are talking a few feet from the entrance.One guard goes outside and returns. They settle down to sleep.
12:25 a.m. Joseph hears gunfire outside. SEALs using night-vision goggles storm the room. The first SEAL to enter is shot by a guard. Byers, the second one in, subdues the guard. Other SEALs enter and order everyone to stand. They ask Joseph to identify himself.
On the floor, Joseph speaks to the SEALs. Byers lies on top of Joseph to protect him. Joseph hears gunshots in the room. SEALs lift Joseph to his feet and help him outside, but soon take him back in to wait for a U.S. helicopter. Joseph sees the Taliban guards are dead.
12:40 a.m. A helicopter arrives and they leave. The SEALs give medical aid to the operator who was shot.
1:30 a.m. Joseph and the SEALs arrive at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The wounded SEAL, Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, 28, of Monroeville, Pa., dies at the airfield.