By ALEXANDRA DUKAKIS
WASHINGTON - Navy SEALs are trained to carry out missions of great peril with lethal precision and discipline. They are asked to cross enemy lines to save Americans and kill adversaries. However, there is no training course, no simulated direct-action exercise, that can prepare SEALs for the emotional punch of losing one of their own in the line of duty. That's what makes Saturday night's rescue mission in Afghanistan particularly tragic.
Petty Officer 1 st Class Nicolas Checque died on Sunday from wounds he suffered during a rescue mission to save an American relief worker who had been kidnapped by Taliban militants. He was just 28 years old.
Checque, from Monroeville, Pa., spent the better part of the last decade serving as a Navy SEAL, the last five as a member of the elite SEAL Team 6, the team whose members were responsible for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. It is not known whether Checque played any part in that raid, but he executed dangerous missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wherever else he was needed.
It was just before 3 a.m. when Checque and other members of his Special Operations team, comprised of both U.S. and Afghan forces, loaded into helicopters and headed to a remote mountaintop in Eastern Afghanistan. The mission was to rescue Dr. Dilip Joseph, an American working for a faith-based relief agency, Morning Star Development, who was taken hostage by the Taliban on Dec. 5.
Sources say Joseph, a father of four from Colorado, traveled to Afghanistan every few weeks to help with relief work. On Wednesday, he was one of three aid workers from Morning Star taken hostage by Taliban militants while returning from a rural medical clinic.
The other two hostages, local Afghans, were released on Saturday.
Later that day Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ordered a mission to rescue Joseph when intelligence indicated he faced imminent danger and might soon be taken by his captors to Pakistan.
Cheque's team approached the mountaintop huts where Joseph's captors were holding him. In the firefight that ensued seven Tablian militants were killed and Joseph was rescued unharmed.
But Checque had sustained a gunshot to the head. He died of his wounds Sunday.
In a statement today the family of Dilip Joseph said, "The uncertainty of the days of this ordeal were harrowing and we are so thankful and grateful for the safe return of Dilip to our family… We want to extend our deepest condolences to the family of the American sailor who died during Dilip's rescue. We could not be more grateful for that soldier's heroism and for the bravery of all involved in the mission to bring Dilip home."