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A Philly man died fighting the Taliban. The Afghanistan Papers confirmed what his father already knew

Anna Orso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA -- It would not be accurate to say that Charles Strange felt a surge of anger when he read a newspaper report this week of evidence that U.S. military leaders misled the public about the war in Afghanistan.

No, for the Montgomery County father, the anger's always there, like a tiny earthquake rumbling below the surface. The intensity changes daily, but it never really goes away.

It's been more than eight years since his son, Navy Petty Officer First Class Michael J. Strange, was killed alongside 29 other U.S. soldiers and eight Afghan security forces on America's deadliest day of the war in Afghanistan. The crew, which included the 25-year-old Michael, were killed when Taliban fighters shot down their helicopter, Extortion 17, while they were carrying out a mission in a valley southwest of Kabul on Aug. 6, 2011.

Michael was a cryptologist and part of the elite Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit responsible for killing Osama bin Laden. At his core, though, he was a Wissinoming native, a graduate of North Catholic High School, and a "Philly boy" through-and-through.

This week, Charles Strange and his wife, Mary Ann, Michael's stepmother, sat in their home in Hatboro, parsing through the Washington Post's reporting on the Afghanistan Papers, which said what the Strange family has long thought: Military leadership can't always be trusted.

"This is what you get when your son dies: a pin and a flag," he said, his Gold Star pinned to his chest. "And lied to."

 

Seen by some as the Pentagon Papers of our time, the reporting was based on a trove of documents outlining hundreds of interviews conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to prepare public "Lessons Learned" reports. The documents were obtained by the Post via a Freedom of Information Act request and a years-long legal battle.

The reporting suggests U.S. officials publicly stated they were making progress in Afghanistan despite strong evidence to the contrary. Experts say the Afghanistan Papers also show the United States was engaging in nation-building efforts without an understanding of the overall mission, the Taliban and its motivations, or the country of Afghanistan itself. The interviews suggest America's longest war lacked a cohesive strategy under multiple administrations made up of officials who systematically misled the public.

Plenty of veterans of the 18-year conflict, along with their families, have been reluctant to publicly criticize the ongoing war effort for fear of coming across as unpatriotic. The Stranges, on the contrary, have immense pride in their country. They're dedicated to supporting men and women who serve, and established a foundation in Michael's name to support other Gold Star families.

They instead see the war in Afghanistan and the circumstances surrounding Michael's death as a failure in leadership.

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