A former American A special operator died early Thursday morning after being injured days before fighting alongside the Ukrainian army in heavy fighting in the eastern frontline town of Bakhmut.
Daniel Swift, 35, lived primarily in the Pacific Northwest and served as a Navy SEAL. The US Navy said rolling stone Friday that Swift is currently designated as an active deserter, and has been since March 2019.
Divorced, he leaves behind four children. Swift represents a growing number of American military veterans who have been killed over the past year fighting Russian forces despite President Biden’s pleas for Americans to stay away. News of his death was first reported by TIME magazine.
Adam Thiemann – a former US Army Ranger who once fought in Ukraine with Swift and kept in touch with her platoon through late-night phone calls and texts – said rolling stone that during an operation in Bakhmut on the night of January 14 and in the early morning of January 15, Russian forces threw an anti-personnel rocket-propelled grenade at Swift and two other soldiers, knocking them down.
A US intelligence official, who first said rolling stone about Swift’s death, said he suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and died early Thursday morning. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Thiemann wrote on Facebook that Ukrainian troops were doing all they could to keep Swift alive, but their resources were stretched thin as they tried to accommodate all the injured.
Swift was left in critical condition with severe head trauma, according to Thiemann, who was not on the operation at the time but briefed by his platoon mates. The other two soldiers are stable and recovering.
Contacted by rolling stoneSwift’s sister confirmed his death but declined to issue a statement on behalf of the family.
For months, the intense fighting around the small town of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region resembled a First World War battlefield rather than post-9/11-era insurgencies.
Ukrainian soldiers fight from the trenches as waves of Russian soldiers and firearms hired by the Wagner Group – a nominally private military company headed by Putin confidant Yevgeney Prigozhin – attack in the open. This war of attrition is brutal and ugly as gun battles rage for hours amid heavy artillery bombardment. Success is measured in smudges of land and in cheating death to see another day.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who previously served as head of US Army Europe, said rolling stone that Bakhmut became a test of Prigozhin’s influence within the Russian military hierarchy.
“His organization of PWC Wagner mercenaries has focused on this area for months, with little success, driving thousands of Russian troops into the ‘meat grinder,’” Hodges said. “His force is made up of PWC Wagner veterans but includes a large percentage of them recently mobilized and poorly trained, with the aim of massively overwhelming the Ukrainian defenders.”
He added: “The ability of Ukrainian soldiers to withstand multiple human wave attacks every day, backed up by seemingly endless Russian artillery strikes, is remarkable. It also shows the Ukrainian General Staff that Ukraine can contain Russian attacks, despite having a superior number of Russian troops, with what it has, albeit at a very high cost. This is important because it will allow Ukraine to build new forces for a major counteroffensive in the spring, instead of pushing every new soldier or weapon system into the Bahkmut region. Incredible resilience at the tactical level will provide offensive opportunities at the operational level. »
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Friday that the US Treasury Department would impose additional sanctions on the Wagner group next week and designate the private military company a transnational criminal organization.
Before dying in Ukraine, Swift joined the United States Navy after a high school football and wrestling career, according to a self-published Amazon memoir that Swift wrote in August 2020 under what appears to be a pseudonym. The book is called: “The Fall of a Man”.
Ironically, he arrived at boot camp on June 28, 2005, the day of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan and the subject of the 2013 film “Lone Survivor,” starring actor Mark Wahlberg. 19 American soldiers died during this operation.
At the age of 30, Swift claims to have deployed five times to combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen in 2018. Swift is decorated with medals like the Legion of Merit and multiple personal and campaign awards . Later, he served as a police officer for the Washington State Patrol and the Medford Police Department in Oregon.
Yet in April 2019, a felony warrant was issued for Swift on the main charge of false imprisonment related to her divorce. The North County Superior judge set his bond at $250,000. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said rolling stone the mandate is still active. A month before the US Navy classifies him as an active deserter.
Thiemann said rolling stone that when Swift unexpectedly showed up in Irpin, Ukraine, he had no equipment of his own but would continue operations anyway.
“He only had one uniform… He used duct tape to tape armor plates to his chest and back to go on target until he was given a plate carrier,” Thiemann said. “After our SEAL Team Six left, he led our team in Crimea, Severodonetsk and Svyatohirsk, and continued to lead the team after I left. He was one of the toughest and most tactically competent men I have ever met.
Swift served in the same platoon as another volunteer soldier who was killed last weekend: Canadian citizen Grygorii “Greg” Tsekhmistrenko, who served as a medic.
“Even though he had no military experience, Greg was one of the best soldiers I’ve ever met,” Thiemann said. “Under constant Russian bombardment in Hostomel on the first day of the war, without a gun, without a weapon and with little chance of survival, there he was – with only his medicine kit – ready to die for his country. No matter how bad or dark things got, Greg was positive.
Greg’s father, Vitalii Tsekhmistrenko, Told CBC News from Kyiv on Monday that her son “wanted to build a house on the water after the war.” At Greg’s funeral on Friday in Kyiv, the platoon leader said Greg died trying to save Swift, said Thiemann, who attended the memorial service.
The life of a fighter leaves little time to take stock of all that has been lost in wartime. You miss birthday parties. You miss wedding anniversaries. Baseball games and dance recitals. Your child’s first steps and the warmth of a spouse under a set of cool sheets. Often, foot soldiers end up with a divorce and debts. Bad memories and another funeral. And then another.
When asked how he coped with the loss of friends in the war in Afghanistan and Ukraine, Thiemann said, “I’m just sick of it. I want the war to end because the cost will only increase, but even worse, I want to stand up for what is right. It’s a really terrible thing that’s happening. It breaks my heart that most people will never understand the depth of their sacrifice and it breaks my heart that they had to make this sacrifice.
Jim LaPorta covers national security and military affairs. He is a former US Marine infantryman and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. You can follow him on Twitter @JimLaPorta