Published on May 03, 2011
Statement revised: 61 American Indians and Alaskan Natives killed and 445 wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001
Based on updated and revised information from the Department of Defense we are updating the reported number of American Indian/Alaska Native military deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. See the information at the end of the statement.
Washington, DC - In a statement released today, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) responded to the death of Osama bin Laden and reports that the American Indian name “Geronimo” was used as the code name for the operation to kill the al-Qaeda leader.
“We join President Obama in reflecting on the sacrifices made by the members of our military to defend our great nation. When terrorists attacked on 9/11, it was an attack on our homeland that deeply affected tribal nations, along with our fellow citizens. Osama bin Laden was a shared enemy. Since 2001, 61 American Indians and Alaskan Natives have died defending our country in Afghanistan and Iraq. Close to 450 have been wounded,” said Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI, the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country.
“Let’s be very clear about what is important here; the successful removal of Osama bin Laden as a threat to the United States honors the sacrifice these Native warriors made for the United States and their people,” added Keel, an Army Veteran and the Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.
In November 2010, the Pentagon estimated that nearly 24,000 American Indian and Alaska Native active duty personnel serve across the Armed Forces. Hundreds of thousands of tribal members have served in the U.S. military in the last century making vital contributions, such as the Native American code talkers.
Reports from news outlets in the days following the tactical strike in Pakistan to capture or kill bin Laden have stated that the military’s code name for him was “Geronimo,” referring to the Apache leader revered by many as a hero in the Southwestern, United States.
“Our understanding is that bin Laden’s actual code name was ‘Jackpot’ and the operation name was ‘Geronimo’,” said Keel. “To associate a Native warrior with bin Laden is not an accurate reflection of history and it undermines the military service of Native people. It’s critical that military leaders and operational standards honor the service of those who protect our freedom.”
Jefferson Keel, President of NCAI, is a retired U.S. Army officer with over 20 years active duty service. He served two extended tours of combat duty as an Infantryman in Viet Nam, and received numerous awards and decorations for heroism, including two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with "V" for valor, and the Army Commendation Medal with valor. He is a former Airborne Ranger, infantry platoon sergeant and platoon leader, and served as an instructor in the elite U.S. Army Rangers.
Revised data as provided by Department of Defense:
- American Indian/Alaska Native military deaths in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom, or OIF) from March 2003 through May 2, 2011: 42 (number reported as of October 2010 should have also been reported as 42)
- American Indian/Alaska Native military wounded in action in Iraq (OIF) from March 2003 through May 2, 2011: 336 (337 reported as of October 2010 was corrected by DoD)
- American Indian/Alaska Native military deaths in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom, or OEF) from October 2001 through May 2, 2011: 19 (was 17 as of October 2010)
- American Indian/Alaska Native military wounded in action in Afghanistan (OEF) from October 2001 through May 2, 2011: 109 (was 89 as of October 2010)