On November 4, 2016, three U.S. Army Special Forces operators were shot dead as they were re-entering the King Faisal Air Base, Jordan. Their killer, Jordanian Air Force Sergeant Ma’arik al-Tawayha, was stopped by another Green Beret before he could kill more Americans.
He was arrested, and after a controversial trial, was sentenced to life in prison, which often translates to 20 years behind bars in the Jordanian legal system.
The three Green Berets killed on that day — Sergeant First Class Matthew Lewellen, Staff Sergeant Kevin McEnroe, and Staff Sergeant James F. Moriarty — were assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group.
Now their families have sent a letter to Congress in an attempt to have the Jordanian airman extradited in the U.S. to face justice.
James R. Moriarty, the father of SSG Moriarty, said to the Military Times that he hopes for an extradition “because I want him interviewed again about what happened. And maybe this time we’ll get the full story.”
An extradition, however, seems unlikely given the complicated tribe system of Jordan and the politics behind it. A particular point of friction will be the U.S.-Jordan extradition treaty, which was signed in 1995. Although the treaty was signed, it wasn’t approved by the Jordanian Parliament, thus allowing the Jordanian government to deny al-Tawayha’s extradition to America in an attempt to placate domestic opposition.
From the Jordanian perspective, or at least that of the killer’s tribe, the Howeitat, the Jordanian Air Force sergeant was acting within his rules of engagement, and the life-in-prison sentence is overblown. That perspective, however, defies logic and evidence. The Jordanian Airman had been a regular at the base’s gate checkpoint and had seen Americans come and go daily. And, as the video footage of the shooting clearly shows, the Special Forces operators tried to deescalate after the initial burst of fire by waving their arms, indicating that they are friendlies.
In an interview with the New York Times, a Green Beret who was present in the shootout said that “We kept yelling in English and Arabic, saying we were friends… I put my gun down, raised my hands a little and he took a shot at me… and he kept shooting. Eventually, we realized it wasn’t an accident.”
As SOFREP has previously reported, the three Green Berets were supporting the CIA as part of an inter-agency (IA) mission. The operation, dubbed Sycamore Timber, was led by the CIA and sponsored several Arab groups with arms and training in order to fight the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Agency was running another similar operation out of Turkey. These operations, however, were sponsoring groups with questionable affiliations and motivations, a result of the CIA’s urgency to form an adequate opposition against the Assad regime. Indeed, at times, Special Forces operators knew that they were training their future opponents.
They and their CIA Ground Branch (part of the Agency’s paramilitary forces) counterparts warned that their Arab recruits were infiltrated by Islamic State and al-Nusra sympathizers. Their warnings, however, fell on deaf ears. The operations, which were started under the Obama administration, were shut down by President Trump in July 2017.
Jordan has been a staunch U.S. ally in the turbulent Middle-East for decades. Since the 1950s, for example, successive American administrations have provided the country with over $15 billion in economic and military aid. In 2019 alone, Jordan received $1.5 billion in aid.
Editor’s note: The picture of the three Green Berets has been updated to correctly match their names with their photographs.