A member of the U.S. special operations team known as SEAL Team Six—the same elite unit that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011—was killed last weekend in a rescue operation in Afghanistan that freed an American doctor held hostage by the Taliban. On the night of December 8, during a helicopter assault on a mountain hideout 50 miles from the Pakistani border, a firefight between U.S. and Taliban forces killed 28-year-old Petty Officer First Class Nicolas Checque of Monroeville, Pennsylvania, along with seven Taliban, who had been armed with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and AK-47s. Private Checque was a highly decorated combat veteran who enlisted in 2002, served in Iraq and received multiple commendations, including the Bronze Star Medal.
The operation rescued Dr. Dilip Joseph of Colorado Springs, who had been kidnapped by the Taliban outside Kabul several days earlier along with two Afghan coworkers. According to U.S. officials, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $100,000 from Joseph’s employer, Morning Star Development. When told that Morning Star didn’t have the money, they released the two Afghans captured with Joseph. General John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, ordered the rescue operation based on the Afghans’ reports that the kidnappers were mistreating Joseph, and in the hopes of catching them before they disappeared into Pakistan. After the rescue, Morning Star reported that Joseph was uninjured and would probably be returning to Colorado in a few days. In a statement, President Obama praised the special forces, and said of Private Checque that “he gave his life for his fellow Americans, and he and his teammates remind us once more of the selfless service that allows our nation to stay strong, safe and free.”
SEAL Team Six—officially the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DevGru—is an elite counterterrorism unit comparable to the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, with its members selected from existing (already elite) Navy SEAL teams. Like Delta Force, it is under the administration of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which was established in 1980 after the failed attempt by U.S. Special Operations forces to rescue American hostages held in Iran.
SEAL Team Six is actually an older title for the all-star Navy team, and was designed to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of SEAL teams in operation (there were only three at the time). Many of the unit’s operations since the 1980s remain classified, but it was confirmed to have taken part in several high-profile missions over the years, including the U.S.-led invasion of Grenada in 1983, the capture of deposed dictator Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1993 and the arrest of Bosnian war criminals in 1998.
The entire world learned about the courage, daring and skill of SEAL Team Six after what occurred in the early hours of May 2, 2011, when around two dozen SEALs stormed a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing Osama bin Laden and killing or capturing 21 others without losing a single team member. The raid, reportedly years in the planning, took only 40 minutes. Several months after that historic operation, however, SEAL Team Six suffered heavy losses when a Taliban attack took down a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan. Of the 30 service members who died, 15 were members of DevGru, though officials said none of those who died had taken part in the Abbottabad raid.
In January 2012, members of SEAL Team Six carried out a nighttime raid in Somalia, freeing two hostages and killing a reported nine of their pirate captors. One of the hostages was U.S. aid worker Jessica Buchanan, whose failing health apparently led President Obama to authorize the risky nighttime rescue operation, which was the highest-profile U.S. military action in Somalia since American troops withdrew from the volatile country in 1994. In May 2012, members of SEAL Team Six joined forces with the British Special Air Service (SAS) to rescue British aid worker Helen Johnston and her three female colleagues from their Taliban captors in eastern Afghanistan. No casualties were reported among U.S. forces in either operation.