The Pentagon said Wednesday that it will release the names of 30 U.S. troops killed in a catastrophic helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Saturday, but it made the decision only after some senior military commanders lobbied to keep the identities a secret.
Officials from the U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees such units as the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force, had asked Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta not to publicly identify most of the 30 service members who died Saturday when their Chinook helicopter was shot down by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.
Panetta considered the request but decided to order the disclosure of the troops’ names, rank, age, unit and hometown anyway, in keeping with past practice, Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Wednesday. Lapan said the information would be released “within 24 hours.”
He said that senior leaders in the Special Operations Command had told Panetta that disclosing the identities of 22 Navy SEALs and three Air Force commandos on board the helicopter could have “security implications.” Lapan declined to elaborate on those concerns but said that Panetta “carefully considered all of the views” before deciding to go ahead and release the names.
Withholding the names would have represented a break from the Pentagon’s policy of fully identifying every service member killed in the line of duty. Most of the names had been publicized in recent days as grieving friends and family members discussed their losses in interviews with news organizations.
The Pentagon’s tradition of disclosing names, however, has increasingly run into resistance from the Special Operations Command, which has taken an increasingly active role in the war in Afghanistan and in counterterrorism operations around the globe. The specially trained commandos largely operate in the shadows and are accustomed to levels of secrecy associated with agencies such as the CIA, with whom the commandos often work closely.