US & Canada

US Army Captain William Swenson awarded Medal of Honor

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Media captionJonathan Landay, a reporter embedded with US troops at the time of the firefight, speaks to the BBC about the actions of Captain Swenson (above left)

President Barack Obama has awarded the highest US military honour to a survivor of an Afghan battle.

Retired Captain William Swenson, 34, received the Medal of Honor for repeatedly risking his life to save fellow soldiers and recover the dead.

Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the same deadly firefight in the Ganjgal Valley in 2009.

Capt Swenson is now the sixth living recipient of the military honour.

The Pentagon has said it took two years after Sgt Meyer's medal to honour Capt Swenson because the initial paperwork nominating him for the medal was "lost".

But some have suggested Capt Swenson's application was delayed after he openly criticised superior officers for rejecting many of his calls for air support.

Two Army officers were eventually reprimanded for being "inadequate and ineffective" and for "contributing directly to the loss of life", following an investigation into the battle.

'A simple act'

Capt Swenson was serving in Afghanistan as a trainer and mentor embedded with the Afghan National Security Forces in Kunar province when he was among US and Afghan soldiers walking through the valley on the way to meeting with village elders.

After being trapped by an attack as they approached the village, he ran across 50m (164ft) of open space to a wounded Sgt Kenneth Westbrook, pressing a bandage against the wounded man's chest wound with one hand and throwing a grenade with another before bringing him to a medical helicopter.

In video taken from the helmet camera of a medic recently released by the military, Capt Swenson is seen kissing the forehead of Sgt Westbrook, 41, as he is brought into a medical helicopter.

"A simple act of compassion and loyalty to a brother in arms," Mr Obama said. "He's without his helmet, standing in the open, exposing himself to enemy fire, standing watch over a severely wounded soldier."

Sgt Westbrook died after returning the US of complications from a blood transfusion.

Mr Obama said while the Medal of Honor had been awarded nearly 3,500 times for actions above and beyond the call of duty "this may be the first time that we can actually bear witness to a small fraction of those actions for ourselves".

After Capt Swenson put Sgt Westbrook on the airlift, he returned to the battle, driving vehicles multiple times across the firefight to recover soldiers.

"Will Swenson was there for his brothers," during the six-hour battle, Mr Obama said.

Four other Americans, 10 Afghan army troops and an interpreter were killed during the battle in September 2009.

The former army captain had invited family members of those who died in the firefight to the ceremony on Tuesday.

Capt Swenson has been unemployed since leaving the military in 2011 and now lives in Seattle, Washington.

He has requested to return to active duty, rare for a Medal of Honor recipient, and his request is being reviewed, Army spokesman George Wright said.

In a brief statement after the ceremony Capt Swenson said: "This award was earned with a team, a team of our finest. This medal represents them. It represents us."

He was first nominated on 18 December 2009, but the US commander in Afghanistan had to resubmit Capt Swenson's application in July 2011, according to McClatchy newspapers.

California Representative Duncan Hunter had asked the defence department to explain the further delay in January.

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