First time FBI’s highest award given to someone from outside the FBI
WASHINGTON DC - James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, presented the FBI’s Director’s Award, the agency’s highest recognition, to 26 Soldiers from 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) March 9, at the FBI headquarters in Washington DC, for their work ferreting out Improvised Explosive Device networks in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2009.
This is the first time the award has been given to anyone outside of the FBI.
Col. George Thiebes, at the time the Task Force 10 Commander and now serving as the Group Commander for 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), said, “It is an honor to be recognized with the FBI Director’s Award. The members of the command receiving this award represent a portion of the entire battalion who developed this relationship with the FBI and jointly targeted the IED network. This battalion continued to nurture these relationships as it conducted company-sized back-to-back deployments for a total of seven consecutive years.”
The Director’s Award for Excellence is among the FBI's highest honors, recognizing employees and partners for outstanding contributions and exceptional service to the FBI and its mission.
“We feel a natural kinship with our brothers and sisters in the military because we share the values of fidelity, bravery, and integrity,” said Director Comey during the ceremony. “Like FBI employees, men and women in uniform move toward the sound of pain and danger, overcoming fear to do good.”
According to the award citation, the Kabul Counter-Improvised Device Initiative was created to synchronize the FBI’s investigative expertise with 10th SFG (A) operations. A cadre of FBI agents and Special Forces Soldiers dismantled and disrupted three IED cells and thwarted over 40 separate attacks targeting U.S. and coalition forces and the U.S. mission in Kabul, Afghanistan.
The initiative began after Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard and Army Staff Sgt. Robert Paul were killed along with at least eight Afghans in 2006, by a fiery car bombing on their way to the U.S. Embassy.
FBI agents from the Legal Attache’ (Legat) office in Kabul responded to the rapidly disintegrating crime scene and found the evidence was being washed away. They realized the need for military Special Operations Forces to help secure and investigate IED crime scenes.
Legat Kabul contacted Army Gen. Dan McNeil, then commander of the International Security Assistance Force, and asked for assistance to launch the C-IED initiative. Gen. McNeil linked 10th Group up with the FBI and McNeil said at the time “G-man, meet your SWAT Team.”
Thiebes commented on the nature of relationship formed, “The relationships established and nurtured between the Special Forces Soldiers and the FBI Agents during those deployments still survive today. We continue to run into each other in other conflict areas. The close relationship that exists between our organizations is a testament to how military coordination and integration with the interagency has matured.”
Over three years, the team leveraged its analytical and tactical expertise to uncover manufacturing facilities, safe houses, and financiers. FBI interpreters and investigators interviewed failed suicide bombers, established a psychological profile of future bombers, and gleaned actionable intelligence about past and planned attacks. The team identified and neutralized or captured more than 150 IED facilitators targeting the area-including the notorious bomb-makers responsible for the explosion that killed Howard and Paul.
Thiebes said that not only did this opportunity serve as an example of interagency coordination but, moreover, his Soldiers were privileged to work side by side with FBI counterparts during mission planning and combat operations aimed at dismantling IED makers, emplacers, and facilitators.
“This unique relationship capitalized on the FBI’s investigative and analytical skills paired with the combat advisory expertise of the Special Forces Soldiers and the local cultural understanding of their partnered Afghan Special Police units,” Thiebes said. “This partnership formed a powerful C-IED network that effectively targeted the IED network operating in Kabul and the surrounding provinces.”
Several senior military officers spoke at the ceremony about the collective team’s unique interagency teamwork and courage.
“There are two types of courage: physical courage and intellectual courage. This team showed both,” said Army Lt. Gen. (Ret) Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “This team said, ‘We need to do more,’ and did not allow bureaucracy to stifle the innovation we needed on the battlefield.”
Army Lt. Gen. John Mulholland Jr., former deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and current new associate director for military affairs for the CIA, echoed this praise, saying, “When we bring the best of our respective agencies together, no one can stand against us.”
Now retired Gen. McNeil said at the ceremony that he marveled at the coordination and synergy that emerged among team members. “Give way together,” he urged, citing an old rowing command. “There is no greater calling than to serve your nation and fellow citizens. Get everyone on the oars-and pull with everything you have.”
One team member of the initiative, Army Chief Warrant Officer Douglas Vose II, lost his life while disrupting IED networks in Afghanistan. His wife, Nicole, and sons, Aiden and Conner, attended the ceremony and received the FBI Star from Director Comey.