2011 Chinook shootdown in Afghanistan

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2011 U.S. Boeing CH-47 Chinook shootdown
CH-47 Chinook in Bagram.jpg
A Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Bagram, Afghanistan, similar to the one that was shot down.
Attack summary
Date 6 August 2011
Summary Brought down by Rocket-propelled grenade attack
Passengers 33
Crew 5[1][2]
Fatalities 38 plus one U.S. military working dog[3][4]
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing CH-47 Chinook
Operator U.S. military[5][1][2]

On 6 August 2011, a U.S. Boeing CH-47 Chinook military helicopter, Call Sign "Extortion 17," was shot down while transporting a quick reaction force attempting to reinforce an engaged unit of Army Rangers in Wardak province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan.[6][7] The resulting crash killed all 38 people on board—25 American special operations personnel, five United States Army National Guard and Army Reserve crewmen, seven Afghan commandos, and one Afghan interpreter—as well as a U.S. military working dog.[8][9][10][11] It is considered the worst loss of American lives in a single incident in the Afghanistan campaign, surpassing Operation Red Wings in 2005.


In March 2009, U.S. forces (10th Mountain Division) established a base in Tangi Valley after it was noticed that Taliban fighters were 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, due to a decrease in troop levels U.S. forces abandoned the base (Command 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.[12]

U.S. forces continued to carry-out operations in the area (mostly via helicopter/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.[13][14]

Event timeline[edit]

After US intelligence services revealed a possible location of a senior Taliban leader by the name Qari Tahir in Tangi Valley, Wardak province, Afghanistan,[15] a mission to apprehend or neutralize him was launched on the night of 5/6 August 2011 from the forward operating base in Logar Province.[15] It was led by a platoon of 47 U.S. Army Rangers with a troop of 17 U.S. Navy SEALs kept in reserve in case of need.[15][16] The Ranger platoon was transported to the area via two CH-47D transport helicopters (one of them was the accident helicopter) and supported by two AH-64 Apache helicopters and an AC-130 gunship as well as additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft (ISR).[15] The mission was deemed high risk.[15]

  • 22:37 local time, 18:07 UTC/GMT/Zulu time[17] the two CH-47D helicopters carrying the U.S. Army Ranger platoon departed the forward operating base.[13][14]
  • 22:58 5 August 2011 (Afghanistan Local time), 18:28 UTC/GMT/Zulu time[17] the two CH-47D helicopters successfully landed and disembarked the Rangers at the designated location near the compound where it was believed Qari Tahir was located.[15] The helicopters then successfully exfiltrated and returned to base.[15] As the Rangers approached the target compound ISR aircraft observed several people leaving the compound.[15]
  • 23:30 one of the two AH-64 Apache helicopters observed and engaged a group of eight Taliban fighters some 400 meters northwest of the target compound killing six.[15] A second group was observed by ISR aircraft as well but was not engaged.[15]
  • 01:00 6 August 2011 a group of Taliban fighters (who fled the compound shortly before the Rangers arrived) which initially consisted of just 2 people had by now increased in size to 9–10 fighters. The group then split into two groups, three Taliban fighters took a position in a stand of trees while the remaining 6–7 men entered a building located some 2 kilometers from the target compound. Believing that Qari Tahir may be in the group the special operations task force commander and the Immediate Reaction Force commander decided to employ reserve forces (U.S. Navy SEALs) in order to engage this group as well.[15]
  • 01:50 the Aviation Brigade Commander approved a new landing zone which would be used to infiltrate a 17-man Navy SEAL team (the landing zone had been examined for a previous mission but never used).
  • 02:00 special operations task force commander and the Immediate Reaction Force commander determined that the Navy SEAL team should be supported with additional elements increasing the size of the team to 33. It was decided to use both CH-47D helicopters but the entire team would be transported in a single CH-47 with the second remaining empty in an effort to mitigate the risk of a second helicopter approaching the landing zone.[15]
  • 02:22[15] – 02:24[13] 6 August, local time, 21:54 UTC/GMT/Zulu time, 5 August,[17] the two CH-47D helicopters (one of them carrying the SEAL team) took-off from the forward operating base[13][15]
  • six minutes prior to reaching the landing zone the empty CH-47D left formation (as planned) and the CH-47D carrying the SEALs proceeded to the landing zone alone. The helicopter entered the valley from the northwest unlike earlier that night (during the U.S. Army Ranger platoon insertion) when it entered from the south.[15] The helicopter flew without external lighting and made its last radio transmission stating it was one minute away from the landing zone. The helicopter then descended to an altitude below 150 feet (>50 meters)[18] and slowed to a speed of 50 knots (58 mph, ~90 km/h) as it approached the landing zone.[15][19]
  • 02:38 – 02:39 August 6 local time, 22:9 August 5 UTC/GMT/Zulu time[13][15][17] the helicopter was fired upon and shot down by a previously undetected group of Taliban fighters. The group fired 2–3 RPG rounds from a two-story building from a location some 220 meters south of the helicopter. The second round struck one of the three aft rotor blades of the helicopter destroying the aft rotor assembly.[15][20] The helicopter crashed less than 5 seconds later, killing all 38 people on board.[15] Some 30 seconds later one of the AH-64 Apache helicopters in the area reported: "Fallen Angel".[13] Some sources state that at the time of the shootdown the two AH-64 Apache helicopters were engaged in tracking another Taliban group and were thus unable to provide surveillance (of the landing zone and infiltration route) as well as fire support to the inbound CH-47D helicopter carrying the Navy SEAL team.[16][21]
  • 02:45 the Rangers secured the initial compound and detained several people and then began to move (on foot) towards the crash site[15]
  • 04:12 U.S. Army Rangers reached the crash site but found no survivors. Several minutes later a 20-man Pathfinder team (specialised in downed aircraft rescue and recovery) arrived at the site as well.[15]
  • by 16:25 all of the remains were taken from the crash site via ground convoy and transported to Combat Outpost Sayyid Abad
  • in the afternoon of 6 August a flash flood swept through the area washing away parts of the wreckage. The CH-47D airframe does not contain "black boxes" (allegedly only the MH-47 variant is equipped with a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder),[22] though they are often erroneously discussed/referenced in the media.[15][23]
  • the recovery of wreckage from the crash site lasted until 9 August 2011[15]

Initial accounts[edit]

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.[11][24]

General Abdul Qayum, the police chief of Wardak, said the military helicopter was shot down around 1 am Saturday after a U.S. night assault on a house in the village of Jaw-e-Mekh Zareen in the Tangi Valley that had lasted at least two hours.[11] Local witnesses reported that at least two helicopters had taken part in the U.S. special forces attack on the compound, killing eight Afghan insurgents, but that just after the helicopter had taken off again it was fired upon from a separate position. Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said: "The US chopper that crashed last night was shot down by the Taliban as it was taking off. A rocket fired by the insurgents hit it and completely destroyed it."[9][24]

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."[9]

Later accounts[edit]

Subsequent reports stated that the U.S. military helicopter had been delivering reinforcements to personnel of the 75th Ranger Regiment, another special operations unit, when their night raid on a compound to kill or capture a senior Taliban leader went awry.[3][25][26][27] 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.[28]

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."[29]


The deaths included:[30]

The 30 American deaths represent the greatest loss of U.S. military lives in a single incident in the, by then, decade-long war in Afghanistan that began in 2001.[3][24][33]

Fifteen of the Navy SEALs that were killed were members of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU),[9][11][24][34] 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.[31][35]

A source from the Navy's special operations community described the reaction as, "Shock and disbelief. There's no precedent for this. It's the worst day in our history by a mile."[31][36] The previous highest U.S. death toll from a single incident in the war also came from a rocket attack on a Chinook helicopter carrying Navy SEALs during Operation Red Wings on 28 June 2005. In that incident sixteen Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops were killed and three more SEALs were killed in subsequent fighting on the ground.[9][11]

Subsequent events[edit]

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.[37]

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.[37]

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.[38]

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.[15]

In 2013 Jason Chaffetz said he would hold an investigation of the United States House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security into the matter.[39][needs update]


Air Force Captain Joni Marquez, who was the firing officer on an AC-130 gunship which accompanied Extortion 17 on the final flight, claimed that the gunship was denied permission to engage Taliban on the ground. Captain Marquez contends that had the AC-130 been allowed to fire on enemy insurgents on the ground, that Extortion 17 would not have been shot down. [40][41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 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 
  2. ^ a b c "Chinook Crewmembers Line of Duty Deaths", ARMY AIR CREWS, retrieved 8 August 2011 
  3. ^ a b c Jon Boone in Kabul (7 August 2011). "Worst US loss of life in Afghan war as helicopter crash kills 38". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  4. ^ David Batty and agencies (6 August 2011). "US military helicopter crash in Afghanistan kills 38". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  5. ^ NBC's Courtney Kube and Mark Murray. "Taliban shoots down U.S. helicopter, killing dozens of U.S. soldiers". Firstread.msnbc.msn.com. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Dion Nissenbaum, Julian Barnes and Habib Totakhil (8 August 2011). "Elite Force Died in Bid to Save Comrades". Wall Street Journal. 
  7. ^ Carlo Munoz. "Would the Taliban Have Hit an Osprey?". AOL Defense. 
  8. ^ Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs). "DOD Identifies Service Members Killed In CH-47 Crash". Department of Defense. 
  9. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  10. ^ Sarwar, Nadeem. "Taliban shoot down US helicopter in Afghanistan; 38 killed". News.bostonherald.com. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c d e 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. 
  12. ^ "Extortion 17: Did the Battle of Tangi Valley Need to Be Fought?". Conservativereport.org. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f "iPage" (PDF). Retrieved 27 May 2015. 
  14. ^ a b http://www.scribd.com/doc/70574387/ch47d-jcat
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x http://timemilitary.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/wardak_executive_summary.pdf
  16. ^ a b "Families suspect SEAL Team 6 crash was inside job on worst day in Afghanistan". Washington Times. 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  17. ^ a b c d "The World Clock – Time Zones". Timeanddate.com. Retrieved 2014-02-23. 
  18. ^ Time. "Feet to Meters conversion – ft to m". Metric-conversions.org. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  19. ^ "Miles per hour to Kilometers per hour table". Metric-conversions.org. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  20. ^ "CH-47D/F Chinook". Boeing. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  21. ^ "Full story of SEAL mission in question". Washington Times. 2011-10-24. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  22. ^ "Army delayed Chinook helicopter's black box until it was too late – Washington Times". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 27 May 2015. 
  23. ^ "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. 
  24. ^ a b c d "US special forces Afghan helicopter downed by Taliban". BBC News. 7 August 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011. 
  25. ^ Jon Boone in Kabul (8 August 2011). "US helicopter shot down in Afghanistan was sent in after night raid went awry". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  26. ^ "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. 
  27. ^ "US military probes deadly Afghan helicopter crash". News.yahoo.com. 20 April 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  28. ^ "What happened on night of deadly Afghanistan helicopter crash?". Reuters. 10 August 2011. 
  29. ^ "Taliban laid trap for Chinook: official". GlobalPost. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  30. ^ "DOD Identifies Service Members Killed In CH-47 Crash" (Press release). Department of Defense. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  31. ^ a b c d e Naylor, Sean D. (7 August 2011). "Tragedy devastates special warfare community". USA Today. 
  32. ^ Cole, Kevin (8 August 2011). "Lincoln native on downed copter". Omaha World-Herald. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  33. ^ King, Laura (6 August 2011). "Chopper crash kills 31 U.S. troops, 7 Afghans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 August 2016. 
  34. ^ Faiez, Rahim. "News from The Associated Press". Hosted.ap.org. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  35. ^ "Impact on special forces of Navy Seals helicopter loss". BBC. 3 August 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  36. ^ "Afghan chopper crash a major blow to US commandos". Google. 11 September 2001. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  37. ^ a b "Military killed Taliban who downed US helicopter". News.yahoo.com. 20 April 2011. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  38. ^ "Afghan soldiers enter a Taliban nest — without U.S. troops by their side". The Washington Post. 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2014-02-25. 
  39. ^ "Congress to probe lethal SEAL crash."
  40. ^ "Retired Air Force Captain Says Attack On Extoriton 17 Could Have Been Prevented" Circa.com Article by Sara A. Carter, April 18, 2017
  41. ^ "A Retired Air Force Captain Says Pentagon Covered Up Real Cause of Deadly Chopper Crash" Fox News report, April 19, 2017

External links[edit]