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They say SEAL Team 6 had a target on its back since it became known through various Obama administration leaks to the press that the unit killed bin Laden three months earlier.

Commanders told Gen. Colt’s investigation team that the Taliban put 100 fighters into Tangi Valley for the express purpose of bringing down U.S. aircraft. A flight with 17 SEALs would be a coveted target.

Then there is the fact that a group of Taliban fighters, equipped with hand-held radios, shifted positions and gathered near Extortion 17’s landing zone — a spot never before used by the Americans.

Two Taliban fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades just happened to be stationed in a high turret less than 150 yards from Chinook’s “hot landing zone,” or (HLZ).

One paragraph in the Colt report grabbed the families’ attention. In it, crash investigators were interviewing the top leadership of the joint special operations task force that put together the mission. One of them was asked about a manifest.

“Yes, sir,” a commander answered. “And I’m sure you know by now the manifest was accurate with the exception of the [redacted] personnel that were on. So the [redacted] personnel, they were incorrect — all seven names were incorrect. And I cannot talk to the back story of why.”

The “seven,” family members say, refers to the Afghan soldiers. The open Colt report makes no reference about why the manifest was inaccurate. Military censors redacted any reference to the Afghans. Some families believe the task force at the last moment was forced to remove seven Afghans whose names remained on the manifest and replace them with seven others.

Senior Afghans had been aware of the mission because each operation must be approved by a joint operational coordination group made up of Americans and Afghan national security forces.

A Central Command spokesman declined to discuss the issue.

“My thought is they were being set up by the Afghanistan military,” Mr. Hamburger said. “I really have a feeling that is why the Afghans were switched at the last minute. That is why they were not on the manifest. I think that our military discovered that and did not want to disclose that truth to the families. I don’t know that for sure, but you just add everything up that wasn’t right with the mission that night, it really worries you.”

Gen. Colt wrote that he believes the Taliban stood ready to fire for one simple reason: The 3-hour Ranger operation, with aircraft continually buzzing overhead, alerted every enemy in the area that more helicopters might be on the way.

“The [Apache helicopters’] early arrival at both HLZ [redacted] coupled with earlier kinetic engagements of enemy elements, likely provided early warning to Taliban fighters that additional helicopters may be inboard to the area,” he wrote.

The wrong aircraft

Family members also believe the SEALs took off in the wrong aircraft.

The CH-47D, a conventional helicopter flown by a non-special operations pilot and co-pilot, is fine for ferrying cargo and troops to uncontested areas.

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