The Army Ranger from Summerville killed in Afghanistan earlier this month played a bigger role in the war on terror than was earlier disclosed and was part of a secret CIA program to hunt down militant leaders.
The news site Politico reports Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Celiz, 32, was part of the effort to capture or kill militant targets at a time when the broader U.S. military mission is geared toward training and supporting the Afghan defense forces.
The report includes interviews from three unidentified former special operations soldiers who knew Celiz.
The three spoke on condition of anonymity, Politico said, because the subject matter involved classified operations.
All spoke glowingly of the fallen soldier.
Celiz, a member of the 1st Battalion of 75th Ranger Regiment, died July 12 of wounds suffered as a result of enemy small-arms fire in eastern Afghanistan’s Paktiya province, the Army said.
No details about the reported CIA-Ranger connection were disclosed at the time.
“They’re pretty active to say the least,” one former special operations officer with detailed knowledge of the program told Politico.
“They’re the main effort out there in terms of frequency of missions right now.”
Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, a spokesman for U.S. Army Special Operations Command, referred The Post and Courier to military press affairs in Afghanistan for questions about in-country operations.
According to the Army, Celiz was wounded while helping to support a medical evacuation landing zone. He died at a medical treatment facility.
Celiz's Lowcountry roots ran deep. He attended Summerville High School and later The Citadel, where he was enrolled for two years before enlisting in the Army in 2007.
After news of his death reached the region friends remembered him as smart, caring and upbeat. He was quick to crack a joke to lighten the mood, they said. He seemed to earn the respect and love of everyone who knew him.
He was married and had an 8-year-old daughter.
Celiz was on his fifth deployment as an Army Ranger when he was killed and was classified as a mortar platoon sergeant.
The CIA declined to comment to Politico, and the military does not officially acknowledge that it attaches personnel to the CIA.
But the Rangers are known for leading the military’s counterterrorism task force in Afghanistan and "have for years loaned a small number of their most experienced personnel to the CIA to provide helicopter gunships, drones and medical evacuations," Politico said.
It is unclear which militant group or leader was the target of the mission on which Celiz was killed.
The sources Politico quoted who knew Celiz spoke in glowing terms of his abilities and mannerisms.
“Celiz was a top-notch dude,” said one former special operations officer who served with him.
“I can’t say enough good things about him. He didn’t talk a whole lot but he was always happy. No matter how bad things sucked, he always had a dumb smile on his face and it drove guys crazy.”
"We called him the Silver Fox," said another former Ranger who worked closely with Celiz, a reference to his gray hair and advanced age for a member of the unit.
"He was one of the humblest men I ever met. Where others would fall apart, you could lean on him to pull through."