NORTH OGDEN — Jennie Taylor prefers to focus on the beneficial takeaways, not dwell on the disheartening details of what led to her husband’s death in Afghanistan.
The Standard-Examiner recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act a copy of the Army’s investigation report into Maj. Brent Taylor’s death.
In an interview, Jennie Taylor discussed the findings. The investigation concluded Brent Taylor was targeted by an assassin and that intelligence failures contributed to the killing.
“There are life lessons in that report,” she said. “It can be applied across the rest of our lives. The entire thing is symbolic of the world in which we live. There are good guys and bad guys, and sometimes the effort to be good doesn’t pay off.”
The Utah National Guard major died Saturday morning, Nov. 3, 2018, near Camp Scorpion, Afghanistan. Taylor, North Ogden’s mayor, was nearing the end of his deployment.
He was leading more than 200 Afghan commandos in a weekly hike of his creation, a “ruck march” he viewed as a way to increase trust and camaraderie among U.S. and Afghan troops.
That day, Asfar Khan, a 20-year-old sergeant in the Ktah Khas Army commando battalion, worked his way to the front of the hikers and shot Taylor in the head with his M4 rifle from 10 feet away.
The investigation revealed Khan had been plotting the killing for weeks. He even made a nine-minute video in which he said he would kill Taylor because he was a symbol of “Americans killing Muslims.”
Jennie Taylor, who along with Brent Taylor’s parents and some of his brothers were briefed on the investigation last fall, said she has thought deeply about the investigation.
Overall, she is comforted. More reassured and less anxious than before.
“Knowledge is power, I guess,” she said.
Learning that Taylor was targeted, that he was viewed as a threat by the enemy, “That was a reason to be positive,” she said. “Random acts of violence are more scary.”
Because he was targeted, she said, “the only way around it (his death) would have been for Brent not have been Brent. If he was lackluster, he would still be alive. ‘The dude should have just laid low.’ But he was true to who he was as a man and as a soldier.”
Another takeaway: The report did not fault her husband or the actions of his Guardian Angels unit bodyguard that day, Pvt. Jessie Brown.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who approved the investigative report, lauded Brown, who later received a Purple Heart medal, for “extraordinary poise” by firing back at the attacker, requested and directed medical care for Taylor and calmed those around him, even having been shot in the back himself.
Of Taylor, four-star Gen. Austin Scott Miller said, “Brent represented the best of America, a selfless commitment to family, friends, teammates, faith and country.”
Miller said Taylor had a “unique rapport” with Afghan troops.
“Brent gave his life while working tirelessly to protect our homeland and advance efforts to protect our homeland and secure a political settlement to the conflict here in Afghanistan,” he said.
“I think it answers some questions and there are still other questions,” Jennie Taylor said of the investigation. “In time, my children will want to read it. It will say here’s what happened, and I hope they will look at it and say, ‘My dad was a good soldier, a good person, and he was really good at his job.’”
They also will see, she said, “people are not perfect and there were errors in the system.”
And if some of her children want to join the military, they will go in “knowing sometimes soldiers die.”
Waiting for the investigation, Taylor said she also wondered whether her husband suffered.
The trauma surgeon who tended to Taylor after he was helicoptered to a field hospital said the major likely died instantly.
“If he was aware he was dying, he would have thought of me and the kids and his poor mother,” Taylor said. “It sounds like he just died. He was laughing with the guys around him, and then he was just gone.”
Taylor remembers that in one of her last conversations with her husband, he was anguished about the recent death of a young Afghan lieutenant he had befriended.
That officer was the victim of an insider attack. U.S. Department of Defense statistics show insider attacks against Afghan troops are more frequent than such attacks on U.S. personnel.
“He said how sad it was that so many Afghans had the viewpoint we’re there to harm them,” she said. “Quite literally, they have been brainwashed.”
She said her husband “didn’t have this great anger toward those insider attacks, but he had sorrow they can’t see what we are trying to offer them.”
Taylor said she feels no ill will against her husband’s killer.
“I feel sorry for him as a member of the Afghan army Brent was training and trying to help who started to view the American way of life as the enemy,” she said.
Terrorism such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and the Columbine and other mass shootings are similar examples of an “unseen enemy” that ideally could have been stopped, she said.
“They may have dropped a ball or two” in those disasters and in Maj. Taylor’s death, “and that’s awful,” she said, “but I don’t find much good feeling angry about that.”
She added, “Unfortunately, it could be any one of us falling to an insider attack. We just have to do our best as parents and government to screen those people out. Do I want them to improve? Absolutely.”
Taylor said she hopes her husband’s death has served as a learning opportunity with an absence of personal anger or vendettas.
“I’ve got enough emotions to deal with, but I am not bitter to the U.S. Army and the people of Afghanistan. My heart hurts for them.”
She said her husband wondered, “like everyone else, up to the Secretary of Defense,” whether the U.S. approach in Afghanistan was working.
“How long can we stay there,” she said. “Can you ever really stop terrorism?”
Brent Taylor was a Ph.D. candidate with the intention of working in military policy and international relations to try to help find the answers, his wife said.
“He knew objectively as a student of history that we can’t stay there forever,” she said.