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After 13 years, CIA honors Fort Lewis Green Beret killed on secret Afghanistan mission

The casket of Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman is carried to the grave site during Friday’s military funeral service Jan. 11, 2002, at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.
The casket of Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman is carried to the grave site during Friday’s military funeral service Jan. 11, 2002, at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent. The Olympian

When Nathan Ross Chapman became the first military casualty to die by enemy fire during the war in Afghanistan, the only American flag available for his casket was a patch torn off the uniform of an airman loading his coffin for the long trip home.

The former Fort Lewis Green Beret was buried Jan. 11, 2002, a week after his death, with full military honors in Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

It took another 13 years for the CIA to recognize on its Memorial Wall that Chapman was also one of its own.

The sergeant first class had been officially detailed to the agency in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks and died acting as a CIA paramilitary team’s communications specialist.

Chapman’s death, the first of its kind in Afghanistan, drew national attention, including a televised funeral.

Much of Chapman’s story and that of the secret agency team he was assigned to has never been told, and the agency continues to say nothing about him.

At a ceremony at CIA headquarters May 18, 2015, the agency unveiled an engraved marble star to mark his death in the line of service, but like many others in the wall’s accompanying Book of Honor, his name was left absent.

The addition of the star for service in 2002 prompted The Post to examine the background to the honor, and why it had taken so long to be conferred.

“We didn’t even know anything was going on relative to that star. We didn’t expect it, and we didn’t know anything about it,” Chapman’s father, Will, said at his home in Texas.

He said the recognition from the CIA was part of his son’s final chapter, and he was grateful for it.

After the memorial ceremony in 2015, CIA Director John Brennan, along with his deputies, privately met with the Chapmans. He apologized for the long wait but gave no explanation for why it took more than 13 years for Chapman to get his place on the wall, the father said.

“He just said it should have been done a long time ago.”

The CIA declined to comment.

Chapman, 31, left behind a wife, Renae, and children, Brandon and Amanda, who, at the time, were 1 and 2 years old. Renae Chapman was unavailable to comment for this story.

A veteran who jumped into Panama as a Ranger and who served in Iraq and Haiti, Chapman also was a qualified combat scuba diver and sniper. Among his peers he was known as a consummate professional and as the life of the party with a penchant for quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger movies.

Chapman had transferred back to Fort Lewis from Okinawa just before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“America’s going to war over this,” he told his father in the weeks that followed. “And they’re not going without me.”

“And then he was gone,” the elder Chapman recalled.

TEAM HOTEL

Built like a linebacker with a square jaw, narrow eyes and a sly smile, Chapman went to war as a member of what the CIA called Team Hotel — a six-man unit composed of three Special Forces soldiers, two CIA paramilitary officers and a CIA contractor.

Chapman and two Green Berets were selected from more than 1,300 soldiers in 1st Special Forces Group.

For their mission in Afghanistan, the CIA needed communications specialists and medics, and almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks it tapped 1st Group to help fill that requirement, said Lt. Gen. David Fridovich, who was, at the time, the group’s commander and a colonel.

Chapman’s assignment reflected the agency’s rapidly expanding relationship with the U.S. military, said Henry Crumpton, the leader of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center task force that led the war in Afghanistan.

The relationship was born out of necessity to field an effective unconventional force in a new and entirely unconventional war.

After buying thousands of dollars in outdoor supplies from area sporting goods stores and requesting the weapons and equipment the team would need in Afghanistan, the six men spent the remainder of October bouncing between the CIA’s Camp Perry — better known as The Farm — in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the agency’s headquarters.

Chapman was responsible for assembling the team’s communication equipment. At the time, interfacing satellite radios and computers was a new discipline, but it was something Chapman had already mastered. He was known throughout 1st Special Forces group as the best in his field, earning the reputation during repeated deployments to places such as Thailand and Malaysia with special forces teams.

Aside from setting up the radios, Chapman also was instructed on software that allowed CIA and military units to see what was happening on the battlefield in real time.

INTO PAKISTAN

In the run-up to Hotel’s departure, other CIA and Special Operations forces teams had been scattered throughout Afghanistan. But before Hotel would join its sister elements in Afghanistan, Chapman and the rest of the team would first fly to Jacobabad, Pakistan.

The team began trying to work a deal with the Pakistani military to get to their side of the border south of the Afghan city of Jalalabad to box in and find Osama bin Laden, said Scott Satterlee, a Special Forces medic detailed to Hotel with Chapman.

The deal fell through when the Pakistani military demanded more training and equipment than the small team could provide and offered little knowledge of the lawless border region where Hotel was trying to go.

As things unraveled in Pakistan, U.S. and Afghan forces seized Kabul and, just days after Thanksgiving, Hotel left Pakistan for Afghanistan’s capital.

Hotel stayed in Kabul for about a month, spending Christmas there. A detachment of operators from Joint Special Operations Command brought the team to 11 members for an upcoming mission in Khost, a rugged town on Afghanistan’s eastern border.

Christmas was the last time Chapman called home, his father recalled. He didn’t tell them where he was, just that he was safe. He passed the phone around to his mother, Lynn, and to Keith Chapman, his older brother who was recently married. His grandmother and grandfather also managed to get on the line.

“I said to him at the end of the conversation, I’m sorry you’re not able to be with your family,” his father said.

“I know, Dad,” he replied. “But I’m with my second family, and they’re a great bunch of guys.”

FINAL BATTLE

About a week later, Hotel loaded onto one of the CIA’s Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters and flew the 90 miles to Khost. Satterlee said the agency had to pay its way into the town, offering large sums of money to one of the tribes in exchange for admission and some protection.

Hotel would go in and “plant the flag” for the CIA and deny al-Qaida a base of operations, according to a CIA officer present during the team’s operations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a covert operation. They were the first Americans there since the war began.

The team set up, along with some of their newly acquired Afghan escorts, a rudimentary base of operations in an old Russian schoolhouse in the middle of town during the final days of the year.

The night before Chapman’s death, a four-man element from Hotel slipped into the darkness to conduct reconnaissance on an abandoned Soviet airfield a few miles away, returning after taking small-arms fire.

The airfield later would be named after Chapman and was the site of a suicide bombing that killed seven CIA employees in 2009.

The next morning, cold and cloudless, Hotel’s team leader, along with a senior CIA officer who had been sent to the area, met with some of the tribal leaders at a nearby abandoned government building.

OFF ON WRONG FOOT

The meeting started poorly, according to the CIA officer. The tribe’s representatives erupted into heated argument, but after tea and a pledge by the CIA to help rebuild the town, the meeting closed on somewhat good terms, the officer said.

That afternoon, Hotel loaded into four pickups along with a handful of Afghan escorts and headed to what they thought was an al-Qaida safe house in town. The agency had intercepted communications coming from the building.

“Us being there wasn’t accomplishing anything, besides maybe getting us into more trouble,” Satterlee said.

The team got back in their trucks and headed down one of the only paved roads in Khost. As they came into town, the road turned into a wash.

The first three trucks went down and out and headed back toward the schoolhouse.

As the fourth truck dipped into the culvert, now about 100 yards from the next vehicle in the convoy, three men opened up with Kalashnikovs, each dumping an entire magazine into the last truck from about 30 feet away.

In that truck’s bed were Chapman, a CIA paramilitary officer and the team’s lone CIA contractor. An Afghan was driving.

Two rounds slammed into the paramilitary officer’s chest, tearing through his extra ammunition magazines and his soft body armor.

MAGAZINE EMPTY

The bullet that killed Chapman shattered his pelvis and severed his femoral artery. It was unclear who returned fire, said Satterlee, but when they inventoried Chapman’s gear later that day, the magazine in his M4 carbine was empty with its bolt locked to the rear — evidence he had fired every round he could before collapsing from blood loss.

Chapman and the paramilitary officer slumped down, and the Afghan driver gunned it, making it back to the schoolhouse in just over 90 seconds.

By the time Satterlee and the rest of the team got to the back of the truck, it was awash in Chapman’s blood, and he was unconscious.

With the agency’s transport helicopter flying from Kabul — a roughly 45-minute flight from Khost — the team worked furiously to keep Chapman alive.

Satterlee did the best he could by stuffing the wound with gauze while another team member knelt on Chapman’s navel. But five minutes before the transport helicopter touched down, Chapman stopped breathing.

The paramilitary officer, although severely wounded with multiple chest wounds, would survive.

Satterlee helped slide Chapman into his sleeping bag and loaded him into the back of the helicopter. It was 5 p.m. Jan. 4, 2002.

It is unclear exactly who shot Chapman and why.

Satterlee said the gunmen were part of one of the tribes trying to extort more money from the Americans for protection, while the CIA officer interviewed for this article said they were possibly linked to the Haqqanis, a powerful faction that would continue to fight U.S. troops for years to come.

“He always knew how to find his way into the action,” his father said. “That’s why he went in the military, to do this stuff. ... But he knew the risk involved.”

The Army awarded Chapman a Bronze Star with a V for valor, and the CIA posthumously gave him an intelligence star, according to his father.

“The mystique went away, and reality showed up when Nate died,” said his former teammate, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Koehler. “It took the Superman T-shirt from everyone of us who thought we were invincible.”

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