Extortion 17 – 30 American Lives, 8 Afghan Lives, 1 MWD later, Still Questions

By Faye Higbee

Extortion 17 was shot down by a Taliban fighter with a rocket-propelled grenade seconds before it was to land on August 6, 2011, in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. The loss of 30 American heroes is still a gaping wound in the hearts of their loved ones, and in the psyche of Americans who care. The questions remain…why?

Vice President Joe Biden had publicly released the names of the SEAL team that killed Osama Bin Laden before the loss of Extortion 17.  Classified information released by the Vice President of the United States that let our enemies know who to target?  For most people, it’s “just a conspiracy theory.” To the families, it’s a question that’s never been adequately answered.

The empty Chinook

Placing all the teams of Special Forces in one Chinook and allowing the other to fly empty was a command decision. Chinooks are often used as troop transports. This time it was a huge mistake.

In order to get everyone on the ground as quickly as possible and deny the Taliban time to react, the Immediate Reaction Force commander ordered the entire force to fly in Extortion 17. Extortion 16 flew empty.

That fateful decision likely haunts him today, 6 years later.

Known Threats on the Ground not eliminated

Six Taliban out of 8 killed, but when taking out the last two was requested several times, it was denied. Why?

That decision still haunts the Fire Control Officer that day.

“You have two enemy forces that are still alive. Permission to engage.”

Denied. Denied. Denied.  The images of bodies draining of life, going from red to blue…these are the things of permanent nightmares. And it could have been prevented.

According to a comprehensive article (recommended reading) in Air and Space Magazine, two Taliban fired their RPGs at the same time. One flew over the helicopter, but the other “slammed into one of the Chinook’s rear rotor blades and exploded, severing 10 feet of it. The torque of the spinning rotor assembly, now catastrophically imbalanced, ripped the rear pylon off the Chinook’s fuselage. The forward rotor system then tore off, stressed by the imbalance and the strain of carrying what would normally be a shared load. Less than five seconds after the RPG round hit, the helicopter spun uncontrollably, plummeting into a dry creek bed and erupting in a ball of fire that killed all on board.”

Fifty year old helicopters rather than ones created especially for Special Forces. Why?

USSOCOM has spent millions on technology for their Special Forces helicopters, according to Lt. General Jerry Boykin who wrote the introduction to Gold Star Father Billy Vaughn’s book “Betrayed.” The families just wanted to know why the elite forces were flying in a 50 year old aircraft instead of ones specifically designed for them. Was it a lack of availability? The Chinook carrying Extortion 17  had minimal capabilities.

Strange changes in the flight manifest

Seven ANA personnel who were not manifested for the flight took the place of seven others who were on the manifest. A last minute change no one has been able to adequately explain.

The questions cannot bring the dead back to life, but they can help us remember and never forget their lives. For now, we simply honor The Fallen of Extortion 17:

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