Conclusion of Operation and Return to the United States
Forty-three minutes after this communication, four Black Hawk helicopters with an escort of two Little Bird helicopters arrived from Bogota. The Black Hawks contained what were the most experienced and highly trained U.S. forces in the Latin American theater, three sticks from Army (Delta) and one from Navy (SEAL). The Black Hawks hovered above the tree line and the U.S. forces roped down into clearings from about 80 feet. The Black Hawks and Little Birds opened fire on the rebel forces to knock them back and prepare the way for the advance of Delta and SEAL forces, then ceased fire as the ground forces moved in.
Peeler was instructed by radio to cease fire to avoid hitting incoming U.S. forces with crossfire. He and Ancilla's command followed this order.
The rebel forces who were outside the compound, flanking Ancilla and his command, did not surrender. In the next five minutes all 35 were killed. Delta medics reached Gordon Doe, who was dead. Delta medics stabilized the condition of Lt. Col. Ancilla and the other wounded.
Delta and SEAL forces approached the compound. Three men inside the compound were killed before the rebel forces there retreated inside. Then the Delta and SEAL forces stormed the compound, deploying flash grenades and capturing all 14 people within alive. There were no additional US casualties.
Civilian code-talker Bruce Springsteen, and the code-talker assigned to him, who had spent a tense hour hidden in the underbrush listening to the gunfire, were retrieved unharmed.
The three surviving civilian code-talkers were immediately taken by Agent At to the SBA compound canteen for debriefing. They were instructed not to speak to one another in any language. Bruce Springsteen was seated in the dining area, and Ed Fluegel was told to wait in the kitchen. Hope Hearst was brought into the adjoining conference room first for debriefing. Agent At remained in the conference room to make sure Springsteen and Fluegel did not communicate prior to the debriefing.
Gus Fortan spoke to Hearst briefly to determine if there was any Akkadian content she had heard but not translated to him. Finding that there was none, he dismissed her.
Gus Fortan then spoke to Bruce Springsteen, who was brought into the conference room. According to his own later statements and to reports from staff, Springsteen was extremely shaken when brought in. Springsteen's statements suggest that Fortan, who was anticipating General Saunders's arrival, was agitated. During Springsteen's debriefing, Agent At continued waiting in the dining area.
GF: OK, first, what was the breakdown in communication?
BS: I don't know. I don't know what you mean. I was standing where I was told and I spoke twice, once when I was in position, and again when the jeeps left.
GF: So, what happened. The whole thing, from when the convoy stopped and you got out. Start at the beginning, start there.
BS: We walked through the jungle, then just waited.
Gus Fortan then interviewed U.S. Army Specialist 334-678, the driver of the Mercedes Benz, to ascertain what had happened.
334-678: We got the signal to 86 the operation at a really bad time, the guard was almost close enough to hear our radio. The road to the compound was too narrow to turn in, so I had to back the Mercedes out for a couple hundred feet before I found a place to turn. But we made it, met the convoy, and proceeded down the road as instructed, the Mercedes Benz driving between the Humvees. There was a steep drop to our right and a wall of rock to our left. Then there was a giant tree in the road.
GF: Why didn't you drive over it?
334-678: No way, it was bigger than the Hummer.
GF: So then?
334-678: Lt. Col. Ancilla told some guys to move it, and they tried to pull it aside with one of the Hummers, but that didn't work. Then the trucks showed up and started shooting at us, and I got behind one of the Hummers.
GF: OK, so when the gunfire started, then what?
334-678: The others hit the ground and got behind cover and I was behind the Hummer. So we waited, they shot at us, our guys shot back. Then two jeeps came up and more soldiers started shooting. Then I saw Gordon down.
334-678: He was, Jesus, he was covered with blood all around his stomach and he was writhing. The Lieutenant Colonel had just come to where he was and he was pulling Doe back with him, behind a big tree, back to where he was, and, Jesus, there was a big pool of blood on the ground.
334-678: And then, just before he got behind the tree, he got ... Gordon got ... he got shot in the head. That was it, he didn't move, he was ... Jesus, his head just came apart.
GF: What else did you see?
334-678: Then I saw Ed Fluegel watching Gordon Doe die. Fluegel was inside the Mercedes Benz and had sunglasses, but I could tell he was in shock.
GF: Why weren't you able to take the upper hand against the rebels?
334-678: The rebels weren't great marksmen, but we were outnumbered and disoriented. It was ugly.
GF: OK. Go get cleaned up.
Agent At went to retrieve Ed Fluegel. The window in the kitchen was opened. Fluegel was not in the room, and could not be located anywhere in the SBA compound. Agent At's debriefing was delayed as he and Fortan sought Fluegel.
In the next two days, the wounded were receiving medical attention and the problems with the operation were being documented for later analysis. Bruce Springsteen and Hope Hearst were not questioned by any independent evaluators as they remained, idle, at the SBA compound. During this time, a thorough search for Ed Fluegel was begun. Although an eight-hour search through the jungle was conducted, no trace of Fluegel was found.
The sudden departure of Delta and SEAL forces from the base in Bogota created a problem with the press, who had just been told that these individuals were civilians. Members of the press then observed the Delta and SEAL forces arming themselves and departing in helicopters, and the explanation of their presence had to be retracted.
Hope Hearst and Bruce Springsteen were being transported to a rural air force base for their flight back to United States as Agent Tilde, stopping for a drink in a nearby town, encountered Ed Fluegel by chance. He was sitting in a bar, alone at a table. He had a glass and an unlabeled bottle of alcohol before him, and was staring vacantly ahead.
Ed Fluegel turned and noticed that Agent Tilde was staring at him. Fluegel nodded to him, apparently recognizing him. Fluegel stood, and walked over to Agent Tilde without a word. Agent Tilde paid. They then walked outside with the civilian code-talker and radioed for the plane to be held. He then drove Fluegel to the airstrip.
During the drive, Agent Tilde questioned Ed Fluegel, who was laconic but did answer his questions. Agent Tilde sought to determine the identities of all the individuals Fluegel had spoken to in his absence from the SBA compound. He asked numerous questions hoping to lead Fluegel into contradiction or to otherwise reveal the untruthfulness of his answers. Fluegel said simply that he had spoken with no one. Agent Tilde indicated in his report that he found no reason to disbelieve Fluegel during his questioning.