2011 Afghanistan Boeing Chinook shootdown
|Date||6 August 2011|
|Summary||Brought down by rocket-propelled grenade attack|
|Site||Tangi Valley, Maidan Wardak Province, Afghanistan|
|Aircraft type||Boeing CH-47D Chinook|
|Operator||United States Army|
|Fatalities||38 plus one U.S. military working dog|
On 6 August 2011, a U.S. CH-47D Chinook military helicopter operating with the call sign "Extortion 17" (pronounced "one-seven") was shot down while transporting an Immediate Reaction Force attempting to reinforce a Joint Special Operations Command unit of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the Tangi Valley in Maidan Wardak province, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan. The resulting crash killed all 38 people on board - 25 American special operations personnel, one pilot and two crewmen of the United States Army Reserve, one pilot and one crewman of the United States Army National Guard, seven members of the Afghan National Security Forces, and one Afghan interpreter, as well as a U.S. military working dog. At 31 American military personnel killed, the shoot down of Extortion 17 represents the greatest single-incident loss of American lives in Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan, surpassing the sixteen lost in the downing of Turbine 33, a 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) MH-47, during Operation Red Wings on 28 June 2005.
In March 2009, U.S. forces (10th Mountain Division) established a base in Tangi Valley after Taliban fighters were observed exploiting the coalition forces' small presence in the area. U.S., French and Afghan National Police forces carried out a three-day sweep of the area after which the area was deemed secure. In April 2011, U.S. forces abandoned the base (Combat Outpost Tangi) and turned over control of the base to Afghan forces. However, Afghan forces never assumed control of the base, which was seized by the Taliban shortly after the departure of U.S. forces.
U.S. forces continued to carry out operations in the area (mostly via helicopter and special forces) encountering resistance from Taliban fighters on several occasions. For example, on 8 June 2011 a CH-47D was engaged from five to six locations (i.e., points of origin) which fired 14 RPG rounds at the helicopter forcing the crew to abort the mission.
After US intelligence services discovered in 2011 that senior Taliban leader Qari Tahir was possibly in Tangi Valley, Wardak province, Afghanistan, local US forces launched a mission to apprehend or neutralize him. At 10:37 (local time) on the night of 5 August, a platoon of 47 U.S. Army Rangers left at forward operating base in Logar Province via two CH-47D transport helicopters, one of which would later be involved in the accident. After a twenty-minute flight (around 11pm), the two Chinook helicopters landed near the compound ostensibly containing Tahir, offloaded the Ranger platoon, and returned to base.
The mission was deemed high risk; two AH-64 Apache helicopters, an AC-130 gunship, and other additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft (ISR) supported the troop transports on their approach, and remained with the ground forces afterwards. 17 U.S. Navy SEALs remained in reserve at the forward operating base.
As the Rangers approached the target compound, ISR aircraft observed several people leaving the compound. This group grew in number over the course of the night, but US forces were — at first — too preoccupied to engage. At 11:30, one of the Apache support helicopters engaged in a brief skirmish with a different group of eight Taliban fighters 400 m (440 yd) north of the compound, killing six.
Separately, ISR aircraft continued to observe the un-engaged group from the compound. Originally just two people, the group eventually accumulated a total of 9-10 fighters, and the special-operations task-force commander and the Immediate Reaction Force commander became concerned that it might include Qari Tahrir. At 1am, they decided to engage the group with the SEAL reserves.
Almost an hour later (1:50 am), the Aviation Brigade Commander approved a new landing zone for infiltration of the SEAL team. The landing zone had been examined for a previous mission, but had not yet been used.
At 2:00, the special operations task force commander and the Immediate Reaction Force commander decided to add additional (non-SEAL) reinforcements, increasing the size of the team to 33. In order to speed disembarkation, all troops were loaded on a single CH-47D helicopter for transport; the other Chinook would approach the landing zone second as a decoy. Around 2:23, the two helicopters departed the forward base.
Meanwhile, the group of Taliban fighters split in twain. At 2:15, one group of three Taliban fighters took a position in a stand of trees; the remaining 6–7 men entered a building located some 2 km (1.2 mi) from the target compound. Going forward, the two AH-64 Apache helicopters would be engaged in tracking those two groups of Taliban, and hence unable to provide surveillance or fire support to the inbound helicopter carrying the SEAL team.
Six minutes prior to reaching the landing zone, the empty CH-47D left formation as planned. The helicopter carrying the SEALs proceeded to the landing zone alone, without external lighting. During the Ranger insertion earlier that night, the CH-47D had approached from the south; this time, it approached from the northwest. The helicopter made its last radio transmission stating it was one minute away from the landing zone, then descended to an altitude of 100–150 ft (30–46 m) and slowed to a speed of 50 kn (58 mph; 93 km/h) as it approached the landing zone.
Around 2:38, the helicopter was fired upon and shot down by a previously-undetected group of Taliban fighters approximately 220 m (240 yd) south of the helicopter. The group fired 2–3 RPG rounds from a two-story building, the second of which struck one of the three aft rotor blades of the helicopter. The resulting explosion destroyed the aft rotor assembly. In less than five seconds, the helicopter crashed, killing all occupants; and approximately 30 seconds later one of the AH-64 Apache helicopters radioed in the crash.
Six minutes later, the Rangers concluded securing the compound, detained several people, and then began to move (on foot) towards the crash site. They reached the crash site at 4:12, and found no survivors. Several minutes later a 20-man Pathfinder team (specializing in downed-aircraft rescue and recovery) arrived at the site as well.
"The U.S. military helicopter carrying special operations forces to a night-raid in the Tangi Valley of Wardak Province, was most likely brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade, according to military officials."
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, confirmed that eight of the movement's fighters had been killed in the assault on the compound. He said: "They wanted to attack our Mujahideen who were in a house, but our Mujahideen resisted and destroyed a helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade."
In the afternoon of 6 August a flash flood swept through the area washing away parts of the wreckage.
Early media reports suggested the army had been tardy to recover flight recorders from the downed Chinook, and, as a consequence, the recorders had been swept away by the flood. These reports were erroneous; the CH-47D airframe does not contain "black boxes" (although the MH-47 variant does have a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder).[original research?]
Subsequent reports stated that on the night the U.S. military helicopter had been delivering reinforcements to personnel of the 75th Ranger Regiment, another special operations unit engaged in a night raid on a compound to kill or capture a senior Taliban leader. During the battle US forces observed a small group of Taliban trying to flee the scene. The group probably contained the commander and a few of his bodyguards while the remaining Taliban fighters offered resistance in an effort to buy the group enough time to escape. In order to prevent this US forces called in for support.
Other reports alleged that the Taliban had laid an elaborate trap for U.S. special operations forces, luring them in with false information. A senior Afghan government official, speaking anonymously, said that Taliban commander Qari Tahir had fed U.S. forces false information about a meeting of insurgent leaders and fighters waited for the helicopter from both sides of a steep valley: "The Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take. That's the only route, so they took position on either side of the valley on mountains and as the helicopter approached, they attacked it with rockets and other modern weapons. It was brought down by multiple shots."
The deaths included:
- 15 United States Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group's Gold Squadron
- 2 U.S. Navy SEALs from a west-coast based SEAL team.
- 5 U.S. Naval Special Warfare support personnel: Two EOD technicians, one MWD (Military Working Dog) Handler, one Cryptologic technician and one Information systems technician.
- 3 U.S. Army Reserve personnel (Aircrew) from the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment
- 2 U.S. Army personnel (Aircrew) from the 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, part of Colorado Army National Guard
- 2 U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron
- 1 U.S. Air Force Combat Controller from the 24th Special Tactics Squadron
- 7 Afghan National Army Commandos, part of the Afghan National Army
- 1 Afghan civilian interpreter Sayed Jawid Sadat
- 1 U.S. Military Working Dog
Fifteen of the Navy SEALs that were killed were members of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), while the other two Navy SEALs killed in the helicopter shootdown were from an unidentified West Coast-based SEAL unit. The five other Navy casualties were NSW (Naval Special Warfare) support personnel; in addition to these, three AFSOC operators, one Combat Controller and two Pararescuemen, all members of the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, died in the crash. Their deaths are the greatest single loss of life ever suffered by the U.S. Special Operations community in the 24-year history of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
After the shoot down of Extortion 17, the insurgent responsible used a two-way radio to brag to others about the act. American signals Intelligence aircraft intercepted these transmissions, and subsequently tracked the individual and his accomplice. American intelligence officials identified this individual as "OBJECTIVE GINOSA." On the night of 8 August 2011, an F-16 dropped four GBU-54 "Laser JDAM" bombs on OBJECTIVE GINOSA, his accomplice, and four associates in the Chak Valley, which lies to the west of the Tangi Valley. Monitored and controlled by a Joint Terminal Attack Controller at Forward Operating Base Shank via a General Atomics MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, all six were killed and positively confirmed killed by the bomb strike and subsequent attacks by a Lockheed AC-130 gunship and two Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships.
On 10 August 2011, the U.S. military claimed that the insurgent who fired the rocket-propelled grenade had been killed only two days afterward in a F-16 airstrike, saying only that intelligence gained on the ground provided "a high degree of confidence" that the person was among those killed in the airstrike from two days earlier, but providing no other details.
During the same Pentagon news conference in which he announced that the F-16 airstrike had taken out "less than 10" of the insurgents involved, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander in Afghanistan John R. Allen said the military investigation into the helicopter downing would also review whether small-arms fire or other causes might have contributed to the downing.
Following the withdrawal of U.S. forces in April 2011, Tangi valley became a major staging area for attacks on Kabul (located just 60 miles away). Tangi valley remained under Taliban control until April 2013, when over 1000 Afghan security forces personnel launched an offensive in an effort to clear the area of Taliban fighters.
In October 2011, US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that an investigation carried out following the shootdown concluded "that all operational decisions, linked to the incident, were deemed tactically sound". The article states that the helicopter crashed after a RPG round impacted the aft rotor assembly.
In 2013, Jason Chaffetz said he would hold an investigation of the United States House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security into the matter. At the subsequent hearing in February 2014, Pentagon representative Garry Reid defended the decision to undertake the mission, and denied that the Taliban had any advance knowledge of it; rather, he said that militants had occupied a strong tactical position without knowledge of the helicopter's flight path.
In 2017, Air Force Captain Joni Marquez, the firing officer on an AC-130 gunship which accompanied Extortion 17 on the final flight, made a similar claim. Ranger assault helicopters had already engaged the enemy and killed six of eight insurgents, causing the other two to retreat. “I had the sensor operators immediately shift to the eight insurgents the helicopters had taken out,” Marquez told Circa, in her first interview about the incident. “Two were still alive.” Captain Marquez claims that had the AC-130 been allowed to fire on the remaining enemy insurgents, Extortion 17 would not have been shot down. Warnings from her crew to turn the Chinook back or cancel their mission went unheeded.
American rules of engagement were tightened by Gen. Stanley McChrystal in 2009, in order to improve American counterinsurgency strategy. McChrystal cited a previous "overreliance on firepower and force protection" and the need to reduce civilian casualties and win the cooperation of the local population.
- 1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident
- List of aviation accidents and incidents in the war in Afghanistan
- List of deadliest helicopter crashes
- Kavanaugh, Lee Hill (8 August 2011), "Friends remember three area soldiers killed in Afghan crash", The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO, retrieved 8 August 2011
- "Chinook Crewmembers Line of Duty Deaths", ARMY AIR CREWS, retrieved 8 August 2011
- Jon Boone (7 August 2011). "Worst US loss of life in Afghan war as helicopter crash kills 38". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- David Batty and agencies (6 August 2011). "US military helicopter crash in Afghanistan kills 38". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Ed Darack (2017). "The Final Mission of Extortion 17: Special Ops, Helicopter Support, SEAL Team Six, and the Deadliest Day of the U.S. War in Afghanistan". Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute. ISBN 978-1588345899.
- Dion Nissenbaum, Julian Barnes and Habib Totakhil (8 August 2011). "Elite Force Died in Bid to Save Comrades". Wall Street Journal.
- Carlo Munoz. "Would the Taliban Have Hit an Osprey?". AOL Defense. Archived from the original on 28 March 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2011.
- Farmer, Ben (7 August 2011). "Taliban shot that brought down American Chinook killing 30 US commandos was 'lucky', officials believe". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Sarwar, Nadeem. "Taliban shoot down US helicopter in Afghanistan; 38 killed". News.bostonherald.com. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- Joint Combat Assessment Team - Bagram. "CH-47D EXTORTION17" (PDF). Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- "CH-47D EXTORTION17". Scribd. Archived from the original on 14 September 2014. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
- Colt, Jeffrey N. (9 September 2011). Executive Summary (Crash of CH-47D Aircraft in Wardak Province, Afghanistan on 6 August 2011) (PDF) (Report). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 January 2018. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- "Families suspect SEAL Team 6 crash was inside job on worst day in Afghanistan". Washington Times. 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
- "Full story of SEAL mission in question". Washington Times. 2011-10-24. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
- Rivera, Ray; Rubin, Alissa J.; Shanker, Thom (6 August 2011). "Copter Downed by Taliban Fire; Elite U.S. Unit Among Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "US special forces Afghan helicopter downed by Taliban". BBC News. 7 August 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- "SEAL Team 6 Families Believe the 2011 Chinook Shootdown in Afghanistan was Planned | Navy SEALs Blog by USNavySEALs.com". Blog.usnavyseals.com. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
- "Army delayed Chinook helicopter's black box until it was too late – Washington Times". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
- Jon Boone (8 August 2011). "US helicopter shot down in Afghanistan was sent in after night raid went awry". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Special forces helicopter shot down in Afghanistan was on a mission to rescue fellow Navy SEALs | Mail Online". Daily Mail. UK. 10 August 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- "US military probes deadly Afghan helicopter crash". News.yahoo.com. 20 April 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "What happened on night of deadly Afghanistan helicopter crash?". Reuters. 10 August 2011.
- "Taliban laid trap for Chinook: official". GlobalPost. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- "DOD Identifies Service Members Killed In CH-47 Crash" (Press release). Department of Defense. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011.
- Naylor, Sean D. (7 August 2011). "Tragedy devastates special warfare community". USA Today.
- Cole, Kevin (8 August 2011). "Lincoln native on downed copter". Omaha World-Herald. Archived from the original on 17 September 2011. Retrieved 8 August 2011.
- King, Laura (6 August 2011). "Chopper crash kills 31 U.S. troops, 7 Afghans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
- "The OBJECTIVE GINOSA strike – Payback for the shootdown of Extortion 17". SOFREP.com. 5 January 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2018.
- "Military killed Taliban who downed US helicopter". News.yahoo.com. 20 April 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
- "Afghan soldiers enter a Taliban nest — without U.S. troops by their side". The Washington Post. 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2014-02-25.
- Ruyle, Megan (24 July 2013). "Congress to probe lethal crash that killed SEAL Team 6 members". TheHill.com. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
- "Pentagon defends deadly Afghan mission". The Hill. February 27, 2014. Retrieved April 3, 2018.
- Carter, Sara A. (18 April 2017). "A retired Air Force captain says Pentagon covered up real cause of deadly chopper crash". Circa.com. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
- "A Retired Air Force Captain Says Pentagon Covered Up Real Cause of Deadly Chopper Crash". FoxNews.com. 19 April 2017. Archived from the original on 19 May 2017. Retrieved 1 January 2018.