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Platoon of Navy SEALs ordered off Iraq deployment for drinking alcohol in a combat zone

Iraqi Special Operations Forces advised by Coalition Forces conduct a combat operation to detain suspected terrorist leaders of an insurgent force in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (AW) Johansen Laurel/U.S. Navy)

A platoon of Navy SEALs has been ordered back to San Diego from their deployment in Iraq, after being accused of drinking alcohol while in a combat zone.

The SEALs are members of SEAL Team 7, the same team in which Special Operations Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher served. Earlier this month, Gallagher was acquitted in a San Diego courtroom of the premeditated murder of a 17-year-old ISIS fighter and of shooting at an old man and young girl while on deployment. He still faces charges for posing with the corpse of the ISIS fighter.

Maj. Gen. Eric Hill, commander of the Special Operations Joint Task Force — Operation Inherent Resolve, sent about 20 SEALs home on July 24, after a “perceived deterioration of good order and discipline within the team during non-operational periods,” Navy officials from the U.S. Special Operations Command said Thursday, July 25, in a statement.

“The Commander lost confidence in the team’s ability to accomplish the mission,” the statement said. “Commanders have worked to mitigate the operational impact as this SEAL platoon follows a deliberate redeployment. All Department of Defense personnel are expected to uphold proven standards and to comply with laws and regulations. Alleged violations are thoroughly investigated.”

An investigation was conducted after about 20 SEALs in the platoon were accused of drinking while off-duty but in a combat zone.

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“Naval Special Warfare insists on a culture where ethical adherence is equally important to tactical proficiency,” said Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, with Naval Special Warfare at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado. “Good order and discipline is critical to the mission. The loss of confidence, in this case, outweighed potential operational risk.”

The breakdown in discipline is a further example of incidents that have given a black eye, recently, to this elite group of special warfare operators.

Stories of drinking among the platoon came to light during Gallagher’s court-martial at Naval Base San Diego.

The case drew the support of President Donald Trump, who stepped in to help remove Gallagher, 40, from pre-trial confinement in the brig and helped him move to Naval Hospital Balboa. Gallagher received an immense amount of public backing, raising more than $750,000 on social media for his defense and garnering support from dozens of Republican lawmakers.

During the first day of the court-martial, Gallagher’s lead defense attorney, Tim Parlatore, questioned Navy Lt. Thomas MacNeil about allegations that he drank with enlisted SEALs on the rooftop of their Iraq compound.

MacNeil, who testified under a grant of immunity, admitted he did and laughed when Parlatore showed him a photo of the bar, which included a DJ set-up. Parlatore described a climate of rogue behavior in which SEALs drank at night, collected photos and made videos of dead bodies to celebrate their deployments.

“I’m sure there is more to it than just drinking,” Parlatore said Thursday. “These incidents do indicate a larger cultural problem with the SEAL Teams and failure of leadership.”

The court-martial’s numerous twists and turns, including the removal of a Navy prosecutor who was accused of using email technology to spy on the defense and members of the media, opened the special warfare units to public scrutiny.

Gallagher’s case was one of several that has cast a negative light, recently, on the U.S. military’s elite special operations forces, particularly the SEALs.

In May, Chief Petty Officer Adam Matthews, a member of the elite SEAL Team Six, was sentenced to a year in military prison after pleading guilty to his role in the June 2017 strangulation death of Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar during a hazing incident in the West African country of Mali. Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell, a special operations Marine, was sentenced to four years in after he also pleaded guilty for his role in Melgar’s death.

A report by the Navy Times this week said 10 SEALs from SEAL Team 10, based in Virginia, tested positive for using cocaine earlier this year.

“We’re actively reinforcing, with the entire force, basic leadership, readiness, responsibility, and ethical principles that must form the foundation of special operations,” Lawrence said. “Leaders at all levels must lead in a way that sustains and sharpens that foundation. Discipline is a competitive advantage and enforcing those standards is critical to our success on the battlefield.

“To mitigate potential impacts of this redeployment, other Navy personnel, including SEALS and their support staff, are available to complete the assigned operational requirements,” she added.

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© 2019 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.