On December 5, 2012, Dr. Dilip Joseph, an aid worker dedicated to training health-care providers in villages near Kabul, found himself captured by the Taliban. While en route to his base, his vehicle was halted by a man armed with an AK-47. In an instant, Joseph and his two Afghan colleagues were surrounded and taken prisoner.
The captives were brought to a one-room building within a compound in Afghanistan’s Laghman Province. Intelligence suggested that Joseph would likely be moved and potentially executed the following day, prompting an urgent need for a rescue mission. After three days, Chief Special Warfare Operator (SEAL) Edward C. Byers Jr. and his team, including Petty Officer 1st Class Nicolas Checque, embarked on a daring operation to save Joseph.
In 2012, Byers had already served as a SEAL for eight years and completed multiple combat deployments. His extensive experience would prove vital in this high-stakes mission. The team of SEALs trekked through the Afghan wilderness for five hours before reaching the target location. Upon arrival, they took their positions, with Byers joining Echo Team, assigned to the building where Joseph was held.
As the team charged towards the building’s entrance, a Taliban sentry spotted them, sounded the alarm, and retreated inside. The SEALs discovered that the door was made of wool blankets cemented into the doorframe, an obstacle they had never encountered before. With no other choice, the team members had to push through the blankets, leaving them exposed to enemy fire.
Checque ran ahead through the blankets, with Byers following behind. Upon entering the room, Byers saw an enemy figure through his NODs. With just seconds to react, he neutralized the Taliban fighter. Byers then moved towards another figure searching for a rifle in the shadows. Unable to distinguish friend from foe, Byers immobilized the man while the team tried to locate Joseph. They called out to Joseph, hoping to pinpoint which figure was their hostage and which were the enemy. Finally, Joseph called out to the Americans in English.
“We finally hear this voice, ‘I’m over here; I’m over here,'” Byers said. “And it was not the person I’m on top of. I made the decision to shoot the person I’m on top of, and whether it killed him or subdued him, I was able to jump off of that person and I leapt across the room.” Byers threw himself on the doctor to shield him from the close-quarters shooting. As he protected Joseph, Byers engaged in a hand-to-hand struggle with a Taliban fighter, restraining the enemy until another SEAL neutralized him. The hostages were saved, but Checque was mortally wounded in his rush through the woolen door.
Checque’s heroism and bravery during the operation were essential to the success of the mission. Putting himself into danger by leading the team through the doorway, he sacrificed his life to save another American, and he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions. Byers, on the other hand, was awarded the Medal of Honor in 2016 for his actions during the mission.
Checque’s death was a devastating loss for his fellow SEALs and his family. However, his heroism will never be forgotten. Byers has expressed his deep gratitude and respect for Checque, saying that the Medal of Honor was “truly his.” Byers also believes that the nation owes Checque a debt of gratitude for his sacrifice.
The rescue mission itself was a testament to the bravery and skill of the US Navy SEALs. They put their own lives on the line to save Joseph and succeeded despite the dangerous circumstances. Byers and Checque’s actions during the mission exemplified the SEALs’ ethos of never leaving anyone behind.