Navy SEAL Killed During Afghan Rescue Is Identified

Dec 10, 2012
Originally published on December 10, 2012 6:44 pm

The member of Navy SEAL Team 6 killed during this weekend's rescue in Afghanistan of an American doctor was Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Checque, 28, of Monroeville, Pa.

In a statement, the Pentagon says Checque "was assigned to an East Coast-based Naval Special Warfare unit ... [and] died of combat related injuries suffered Dec. 8, while supporting operations near Kabul, Afghanistan."

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reminds us that SEAL Team 6 is the unit that flew into Pakistan in May 2011 and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad. The identities of the SEALs from that unit who took part in the bin Laden operation remain unknown, except for one now-retired SEAL who has written a book.

This past weekend's operation rescued Dr. Dilip Joseph of Colorado Springs, Colo., from the gunmen who kidnapped him last week. Joseph and two other aid workers were returning from a visit to a rural medical clinic when they were grabbed. The other two men, both Afghans, were later released.

During this weekend's mission in which Checque died, U.S. forces killed seven of the men who had been holding Joseph.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Checque "was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head, according to Lt. Cmdr. David McKinney of Naval Special Warfare Command Public Affairs in San Diego. A man who answered the phone at a family member's house in Washington County [Pa.] declined comment."

Joseph, who was kidnapped last Wednesday, is a medical adviser for a non-profit "community and economic development organization" known as Morning Star Development. Today, Morning Star issued a statement saying that:

"Our relief in the safe rescue of Mr. Joseph is now tempered by our deep grief over the loss of this true hero. We offer our deepest condolences to his family and to his fellow team members. We want them to know that we will always be grateful for this sacrifice and that we will honor that sacrifice in any way we can."

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And I'm Audie Cornish.

And that daring raid in Afghanistan over the weekend that saved one American life cost the life of another. Special operations forces launched their mission by helicopter from Bagram Air Base. Their target: a heavily defended Taliban compound not far from Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. That's where an American aid worker was being held hostage.

We're going to hear what happened next from NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. He joins us now in the studio. And, Tom, explain to us who was involved in this raid and how it unfolded.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, Audie, the Navy commanders who took part in the raid were from SEAL Team 6. This, of course, is the same unit that took part in the killing of Osama bin Laden, though we don't know if we're talking about the same team.

Now all indications are this is a very tough fight in a mountainous area. You had Taliban defenders with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns. In the end, at least seven Taliban were killed.

CORNISH: And as we mentioned, one of the Navy SEALs was also killed.

BOWMAN: That's right. His name is Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque. He's 28 years old from Monroeville, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh. Now he'd been a Navy SEAL based in Virginia for a number of years. He had Iraq service, and he'd already been awarded a Bronze Star for valor in a previous combat operation.

Now one senior officer I talked with described this as a textbook operation, but these are among the most difficult operations to conduct. You've got an innocent person surrounded by enemy. It's dark. It's hard to get that person out without taking casualties yourself. And I'm told the U.S. felt it had to move quickly. They had intelligence that the life of the American hostage was in imminent danger.

CORNISH: And what have you learned about that man who was rescued?

BOWMAN: His name is Dilip Joseph. He's a doctor who serves as a medical adviser to a relief group out of Colorado called Morning Star Development. He was abducted in the middle of last week while driving to visit a clinic with two Afghan staff members. They were released just 11 hours before the SEAL raid. And apparently they've been negotiating - there have been negotiations going on from the time the men were kidnapped, the relief group's crisis management team and the captors.

And here's what's interesting, Audie. Those taking part in the negotiations included local elders and local leaders who visited the captives and urged the Taliban to release them.

CORNISH: And their negotiations failed to win the release of the American aid worker.

BOWMAN: That's right. Something happened. In the end, people said Dr. Joseph's in great danger. The SEALs had to move fast. Now they were somewhat lucky. They had information on where he was being held since those elders had visited the compound, and likely you had people monitoring Taliban phone calls, drone surveillance. All of that would have helped.

CORNISH: And just a short time left, Tom, but this is just the latest example of special operations forces rescuing hostages in Afghanistan, right?

BOWMAN: That's right. I was there back in June, just as British commandos rescued one of their own. And also two years ago, you had Navy SEAL Team 6 members try to rescue a British aid worker. That ended badly. One of the Navy SEALs threw a grenade and accidentally killed her. And now we have this raid over the weekend, and when it all ended, you have one family who's relieved, and another is in mourning.

CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.