The strange and troubling death of a green beret in Mali

 
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The strange and troubling death of a green beret in Mali

Most Americans didn’t know we had that many troops in Africa until the ambush of the SF unit in Niger a few weeks ago, but I interviewed some Marines in Senegal that were training the troops there in 2012 (when the US Ambassador was killed in nearby Libya) and I found out we had guys in a ton of countries over there.  One such country was Mali, which at the time was in a VERY bad way.  Al Qaeda linked militants in the north of the country were slowly moving south, and had taken over huge swaths of both the north and the middle, while the bulk of the population is in the south.

Senegal of course borders Mali, and the Senegalese troops I also interviewed were very eager to go and fight the bad guys.  The strain of terrorists in Mali believed that shrines and monuments to famous dead individuals (even Muslim clerics and the like) were in need of destroying.  And they were destroying everything in their path.

So, it wasn’t surprising we had troops in Mali.  But it is a surprise how one of them, Special Forces Operator Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar was killed.  And it wasn’t by terrorists.

But first, more from the New York Times on the situation in Mali:

Why American Special Operations forces are in Mali at all is a story in a nutshell of the American military’s successes and failures in Africa.

Mali had been one of West Africa’s most stable nations before 2012, and was held up by the Pentagon as a model partner in combating Islamic militants. But when secular Tuareg separatists began an uprising, as they had done in the past, insurgents linked to Al Qaeda took advantage of the deteriorating security situation.

When the militants surged across Mali’s northern desert in 2012, American-trained commanders of the country’s elite army units defected at a critical time, taking troops, trucks, weapons and their newfound skills to the enemy. A confidential internal review completed by the Africa Command after the debacle concluded that there were critical gaps in the American training for Malian troops and senior officers.

With Mali’s army in collapse, the rebels were pushed out by French and Chadian troops early in 2013, and the United Nations established a peacekeeping mission. But the chaos continues today. Various armed insurgents regularly attack Malian forces and the United Nations peacekeepers. To date, 149 peacekeepers have been killed in Mali, making it one of the most dangerous peacekeeping missions in the world.

While it’s always been a common joke about the French military, what they did in Mali was outstanding work.  They basically ran them out of there, leaving about ½ of them in pieces.  It was a model in how to beat back an insurgency like that in the open desert.

But, back to the death of SSG Melger from Stars and Stripes:

Two Navy SEALs are under suspicion in connection with the death of a Green Beret operating in the western African nation of Mali, where authorities say Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar was strangled in a June 4 attack.

Melgar, 34, was found dead in his hotel room in Mali’s capital of Bamako. Military medical examiners determined the cause of death was “homicide by asphyxiation,” The New York Times reported, citing unnamed military sources.

More:

The Army Criminal Investigation Command led the case until it transferred authority last month to NCIS. No charges have been filed yet, military officials told the Times.

The military made no announcement at the time of Melgar’s death, a break with precedent, which typically involves a statement on a servicemember’s death abroad even if details are scant.

CNN has video discussing it as well:

 

The New York Times from the article above has a theory:

Much is unknown about what happened around 5 a.m. on June 4 in the team house. The initial reports to Sergeant Melgar’s superiors in Germany said he had been injured while wrestling or grappling with the two Navy commandos, according to three officials who have been briefed on the investigation.

According to one version of events, one of the SEALs put Sergeant Melgar in a chokehold. When the sergeant passed out, the commandos frantically tried to revive him. Failing that, they rushed him to an emergency clinic, where he was pronounced dead.

No matter what happened, this is a bad look for the best of the best.  If it was an accident brought on by horseplay, the two SEALs are done being operators.  In fact, they are probably done either way.  But if it was something else (one theory I’m not even going to cite to suggested some illegal activity) then it will be far worse.

In today’s military world, especially in the secretive world of Special Operations Commander SEALs and Green Berets often work together on missions.   Let’s hope that this doesn’t cause a rift amongst our most well-trained and lethal operators.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.