Extortion 17

Early in the moonless, pitch-black hours of August 6, 2011, a U.S. Army CH-47D Chinook, call sign “Extortion 17” (pronounced “one seven”) entered the western opening of eastern Afghanistan’s Tangi Valley, which lies roughly 40 miles southwest of Kabul. On board were two pilots, three crewmen, and a strike force built around members of SEAL Team 6. They were en-route to bolster an American-led special operations ground operation that required more troops. As they flew past a small village at the narrowest point in the valley, two enemy fighters — completely unknown to American or coalition forces — who happened to be at the right place at an opportune time and heard the approaching helicopter, shot down the helicopter with rocket-propelled grenades.

Many enemy fighters in Afghanistan at that time attempted shootdowns, but only a small handful had ever inflicted any damage. This would be one of those rare, tragic moments.

One of three rocket-propelled grenades struck one of the blades of the aft rotor assembly of the tandem rotor helicopter, severing more than ten feet of it. The catastrophic imbalance caused extreme gyroscopic forces to rip the helicopter apart and kill all onboard within a fraction of a second.

Extortion 17 plummeted to the floor of the Tangi Valley and erupted in a fireball that could be seen tens of miles away. All 38 people on board died — thirty Americans and eight Afghans. Additionally, one American military working dog perished. This was the greatest single incident loss of life in the history of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, in the history of U.S. Special Operations, in the history of the Navy SEALs, and the history of SEAL Team Six.

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