Tensions are high and alliances are strained and until now, much of the world never knew what really happened that day in November when three Americans lost their lives at a Jordanian base entry point.
For the first time, going on the condition of anonymity after being ordered not to speak to the media, the sole survivor attacked by Jordanian First Sgt. Ma’arik al-Tawayha, a member of the Jordanian Air Force, speaks with The New York Times to outline the events that left Staff Sgt. Matthew C. Lewellen, Staff Sgt. Kevin J. McEnroe and Staff Sgt. James F. Moriarty dead.
From the onset, the story was riddled with holes. Jordanian officials at first portrayed the attack as an accident and blamed the Americans, saying they had broken the protocol while approaching the base, and later saying they had accidentally fired a weapon, leading the Jordanian guard to believe he was under attack.
And although al-Tawayha’s motives are still unclear, the last man standing tells The New York Times the attack was intentional.
In the video released by the Jordanian government to quell tensions with al-Tawayha’s influential tribe following a life sentence conviction for his murderous rampage, the lone survivor tells The New York Times, the team followed protocol, and within moments they knew the attack was no accident.
“We kept yelling in English and Arabic, saying we were friends. And he kept shooting,” the only man to survive the attack tells The New York Times. “Eventually, we realized it wasn’t an accident.”
The video’s release and the interview are a spine-chilling account of the fateful day.
The video, which last a little more than six minutes, shows the five-minute clash during which the Americans fired back, crouched behind barriers and waved their hands desperately to stop the shooting, before the Jordanian charged with an assault rifle to finish them off.
“We were just terrified and confused,” the survivor tells The New York Times. “We didn’t know what was happening, or why, or how many guys were going to come after us.”
The video gives viewers a point of view perspective of the stark desert road leading to the gate to the King Faisal Air Base in the southern Jordanian town of Al Jafr, where The New York Times reports American soldiers were training Syrian rebels as part of a covert program run by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Four trucks are seen returning from morning mortar training and slowly approach the gate as a Jordanian entry point guard removes two roadblocks and opens the gate’s swing down arm.
Just out of site is al-Tawayha — the gunman, who the survivor tells The New York Times had probably seen Special Forces pass through the gate twice a day.
Once the first two trucks move forward off camera, puffs of smoke are seen, indicating gunshots. For reasons still in dispute, Sergeant al-Tawayha opened fire, peppering the second truck with at least 30 rounds at close range, killing Staff Sgts. Lewellen and McEnroe.
“Glass was flying, I saw the guys slumped over,” the survivor tells The New York Times. He says training had taught the team to accelerate through ambushes to escape the kill zone. “I waited a few seconds, hoping the guys in front could push through, but nothing happened.”
At that point, the Jordanian soldier who removed the roadblocks runs for cover, and the staff sergeant fires three shots toward the gate with a 9-mm pistol before he and Staff Sgt. Moriarty take cover.
To try to appease the shooter, the men pop their heads up; raising their arms without their guns to indicate a cease-fire, then subsequently duck quickly as explosions of dust show bullets hitting the barricade inches from their heads.
“I put my gun down, raised my hands a little and he took a shot at me,” the staff sergeant tells The New York Times. “That is when we decided this probably was not an accident.”
Pinned down and trapped, they kept yelling in Arabic and English and then discussed their options.
“We were trying to wave and we’re getting shot at,” the staff sergeant tells The New York Times. “I gave up with trying to figure stuff out and told him we should just try to kill this guy.”
With only 60 rounds between them, they sprinted behind their trucks to other concrete barriers farther from the gate to gain a better defensive position.
“We thought it would buy us some time,” the staff sergeant tells The New York Times. “Maybe help would come.”
The video then shows al-Tawayha run toward the trucks with his rifle. He hides behind the first truck, firing at the Americans, then walks to the second, slowly trying to flank the men.
Al-Tawayha rushes the soldiers with a burst of fire. Both Americans fire their pistols at point blank range, however al-Tawayha shoots Staff. Sgt. Moriarty, who slumps to his knees, then collapses.
The sole-surviving American evades al-Tawayha behind a barrier then shoots the gunman, who falls behind the barricade.
In the confusion, as Jordanian and American forces edged in to determine what had happened, the staff sergeant’s partner bled to death behind the barrier where he was shot. As the staff sergeant described the gunfight, emotion was high as he revealed to The New York Times a deep sense of regret.
“I didn’t go back to Jimmy,” he said. “I didn’t know the attack was over. I didn’t think I could help him while still in a firefight.”
The lone survivor tells The New York Times he attended parts of the gunman’s trial, and said he, too, is perplexed by the man’s motives. Sergeant al-Tawayha remained consistent in his insistence that he had thought the base was under attack, the survivor tells The New York Times.
“But there is no rational person who chases two attackers from the safety of the guard shack without backup,” he said. “It just still doesn’t make sense.”
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