On 6 August 2011, a U.S. Boeing CH-47 Chinook military helicopter with callsign 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. With killed 38 people on board, it became the most devastating death toll of the U.S. Special Operations Forces in modern history.
On August 6, 2011 – local time, 22:9 August 5 UTC/GMT/Zulu time 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. The helicopter crashed less than 5 seconds later, killing all 38 people on board. Some 30 seconds later one of the AH-64 Apache helicopters in the area reported: “Fallen Angel”.
The crash is referred to as Extortion 17 by the callsign of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter involved in the crash. The crash killed all 38 people on board — including 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. It is considered the worst loss of American lives in a single incident in the Afghanistan campaign, surpassing Operation Red Wings in 2005.
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.
The deaths included:
- 15 United States Navy SEALs from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group’s (DEVGRU) Gold Squadron ” SEALTeam 6″
- 7 Afghan National Army Commandos, part of Afghan National Army
- 5 U.S. Naval Special Warfare support personnel, two EOD technicians, one MWD Handler, one Cryptologic technician and one Information systems technician.
- 3 U.S. Army Reserve personnel from the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment
- 2 U.S. Navy SEALs from a west coast based SEAL team.
- 2 U.S. Army personnel 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
- 1 Afghan civilian interpreter
- 1 U.S. Military Working Dog
The 30 American Servicemen who perished with the downing of Extortion 17. Rest in peace gentlemen, you will not be forgotten.
- SGT Alexander J. Bennett
- SPC Spencer Duncan
- CWO Bryan J. Nichols
- CWO David R. Carter
- SSG Patrick D. Hamburger
- TSgt John W. Brown
- SSgt Andrew W. Harvell
- TSgt Daniel L. Zerbe
- PO1 (SEAL) Darrick C. Benson
- CPO (SEAL) Brian R. Bill
- PO1 (SEAL) Christopher G. Campbell
- PO1 Jared W. Day
- PO1 John Douangdara & Navy SEAL Dog “Bart”
- CPO (SEAL) John W. Faas
- CPO (SEAL) Kevin A. Houston
- Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Jonas B. Kelsall
- MCPO (SEAL) Louis J. Langlais
- CPO (SEAL) Matthew D. Mason
- CPO (SEAL) Stephen M. Mills
- CPO Nicholas H. Null
- PO1 (SEAL) Jesse D. Pittman
- SCPO (SEAL) Thomas A. Ratzlaff
- CPO (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves
- CPO (SEAL) Heath M. Robinson
- PO2 (SEAL) Nicholas P. Spehar
- PO1 Michael J. Strange
- PO1 (SEAL) Jon T. Tumilson
- PO1 (SEAL) Aaron C. Vaughn
- SCPO Kraig M. Vickers
- PO1 (SEAL) Jason R. Workman
The 30 American deaths represent the greatest loss of U.S. military lives in a single incident in the, by then, a decade-long war in Afghanistan that began in 2001.
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.
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.”
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.
There is a lot of controversy and discussion regarding the operators from the Gold Squadron and died abroad the Extortion 17 chopper was part of Operation Neptune Spear a few months earlier. I’ll try to reply the best I can.
According to his book, No Easy Day (detailing his participation in Operation Neptune Spear) Mark Owen (the pen name of former SEAL Operator Matt Bissonnette) stated that nearly all of the Operators on that mission were handpicked from Red Squadron. The following passage, published in The Navy Times, seems to support that assertion.
- “The SEALs who assaulted Osama bin Laden’s compound were drawn from Naval Special Warfare Development Group’s Red Squadron, according to several sources in the special operations community.”
Bissonnette did also say that there was one DEVGRU Operator on the mission who was not a member of Red Squadron and that he was chosen for the mission because of his linguistic abilities. The squadron that this SEAL belonged to was never mentioned.
Regarding the downing of Extortion 17, all of the DEVGRU Operators aboard were members of Gold Squadron. The following was extracted from The Navy Times:
- “Of the 22 NSW members killed, 17 were SEALs and five were direct support personnel, according to the source in the NSW community. Two of the SEALs were from a West Coast SEAL unit, but the others were from Gold Squadron of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, sometimes known as SEAL Team 6, said the NSW source.”
If one is to believe the account of Matt Bissonnette, the only possibility of a participant of the bin Laden raid perishing on Extortion 17 is if the one SEAL specifically noted not to be a member of Red Squadron was a member of Gold Squadron and a passenger aboard the ill-fated Chinook.