Marine Attack Squadron loses eight Harrier jets in worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War

Sep 16 2012 - 47 Comments

On Friday Sept. 14, at around 10.15 p.m. local time, a force of Taliban gunmen attacked Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province, the main strategic base in southwestern Afghanistan.

About 15 insurgents (19 according to some reports), wearing U.S. Army uniforms, organized into three teams, breached the perimeter fence and launched an assault on the airfield, that includes the U.S. Camp Leatherneck and the UK’s Camp Bastion, where British royal Prince Harry, an AH-64 Apache pilot (initially believed to be the main target of the attack) is stationed.

The attackers fired machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and possibly mortars against aircraft parked next to the airport’s runway. Two U.S. Marines were killed in the subsequent fighting whereas eight of 10 AV-8B+ Harrier jets of the Yuma-based Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 were destroyed (6) or heavily damaged (2): the worst U.S. air loss in one day since the Vietnam War.

The VMA-211 “Avengers” is part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered in San Diego at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It deployed to Afghanistan in April and relocated from Kandahar Airfield to Camp Bastion on Jul. 1.

According to Wikipedia, the VMA-211 last suffered this level of losses on Dec. 8, 1941.

Considered that the U.S. Marine Corps are believed to be equipped with slightly more than 120 AV-8B+, the attack on Camp Bastion has wiped out 1/15th of the entire U.S. Jump Jet fleet and a large slice of the Yuma-based squadron. A serious problem for the USMC, that was compelled to buy second hand RAF Harrier GR9s to keep the AV-8B+ in service beyond 2030, when it will be replaced by the F-35B.

Furthermore, the VMA-211 was the only Marine Harrier unit in Afghanistan: until the destroyed airframes will be replaced (most probably, by another Squadron), the coalition ground forces can’t count on the CAS (Close Air Support) provided by the Harrier.

Tom Meyer has contributed to this post.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

  • gary brindle

    Your report takes no account of battle damage repair, until official sources declare what has been written off it is premature to assume each airframe attacked is beyond repair.

    • The fact that 6 were destroyed and 2 “heavily damaged” has been confirmed by both the USMC and ISAF. I don’t think destroyed planes can be repaired…

    • ofer

      So we have an accounting issue here? The Taliban effected the books? Where is the American spirit? Where is the responce to the attackers? Nothing? Well, with your lead ship, Obummer and Clintoris there is a new thing: nothing from nothing give nothing.

      • Marco

        that is just cheap, dude

    • Dave

      They are done. I have seen them

      • Dave,
        any chance to get an image to publish from the USMC?


  • If they were somewhat salvageable, it would have to be by Boeing’s techs here in the states. I remember VMA-513 flew a harrier through some trees during a night training op where the pilot fired a hellfire rocket while wearing nvg’s and was temporarily blinded. I took the better part of a year just to fix some moderate airframe damage.

    • Scotty

      No such thing as a hellfire rocket… He was shooting Rocket. The AV8 is not authorized and not wired to carry and fire hellfire missles.

      • I worked at VMA-311 Tomcats. They had a rocket pod of 4 rockets, and a rocket pod of 32. The 4 pod was hellfires.

        • The Harrier is not capable of carriage/release of the AGM-114 Hellfire. A pod of 4 rockets would be a LAU-10 5″ rockets, and never heard of a 32 shot rocket pod. That would be impressive. In my 22 years in Aviation Ordnance I’ve never heard nor seen a 32 shot pod.

    • I think you may have your missiles confused, the AV-8B is not capable of carriage or release of the AGM-114 Hellfire missile.

  • My son was in a air wing support capacity at Leatherneck and assisted in the moving and support of 211. As a Mother who was reassured by her Marine son “Don’t worry Mom, nothing ever happens at Leatherneck, it’s too big, too remote, and too secure. I’m perfectly safe” this is very concerning.

    During my son’s post deployment leave he showed me pictures of the hangers and his barracks that was right next to the wire. The problems are only increasing, where is the media outrage.

    • No need for media outrage. They are Marines. They are supposed to be close to the battle. Words of reassurance are for concerned mothers. War is war, no matter where you are in the AOR.

      • I guess what I was meant is that last week with the attacks on the consulates and embassies the middle east crisis is not easing up, it’s getting worse. We lost six aircraft, that’s significant. I don’t want words of assurance, let’s actually do something rather than train their people to attack us.

    • Mike Sr.

      As a father and father-in-law of 3 active duty Marines, I know how you are feeling. Between them there are 3 tours at Leatherneck, 1 at Bastion, and 1 coming up next month at Bastion again. I’ve heard all the don’t worry dad I need to hear. Being a Vietnam Marine, I know better. Semper-Fi, my sons and brothers. God Speed, and do what you do best.

  • David Ramsey

    I wish American forces could get the same value for destroyed targets as the the Taliban seem to get.

    • Scott Chamberlain


  • ofer

    As an Israeli I m amazed. A military base with no peripherial guard, dogs just walking in and shoot destroy 8 fighter jets? Is this the America that suposed to watch the Iranian Nuclear bomb? Sorry, US is great technology but fucked managers and zero strategic thinking.

  • awesome ass-kicking by Taliban almost everyday these days…….yet the U.S is too arrogant to get the hell out of Afghanistan. they U.S policy makers really have lost their marbles.

    • gary

      Maybe the US should get a president that will fight a war and not a battle or two. The white house has been a pussy since Harry Truman took over the job of commander in chief. We are still fighting the Korean thing. We need to look for a healer, not a band-aid. gm

  • Judy

    Prince Harry mite be there ,but so are alot of other soliders my SON included


    Two of the best Marines i have ever met were killed in that attack. the Commanding Officer of VMA-211 was killed in that attack, a man i knew personally from my time in that squadron. the second Marine killed in that attack was a friend of mine from a previous deployment whom i had known very well, those loses are unacceptable. yes i was with VMA-211 from 08-10, and then i transferred to F/A-18’s and ill tell you, that VMA-211’s losses will not go unanswered. Semper Fidelis

  • twofiveeightfl

    My nephew is there now,vma 211,avionics tech on the harriers,I pray for him and his fellow avengers..May they will have the sense to get prince harry out of there,before more marines ,lose there lives

    • This would seem to be a more intelligent attack than the media would have you believe, & little to do with Prince Harry.

      They’ve just destroyed a significant chunk of their fast response ground attack aircraft, which the various occupying forces rely very heavily on. This attack dramatically weakens the ability to fight in the way they’ve been doing, the Taliban is adapting much faster than the military there can.

    • Exactly! thats what I was thinking about that may be that would be the case, because of whom Taliban fighters attacked the base just to kill this shit head “Harry’, in-ganged by US Marines and ultimately paid the price for saving a moron..

  • aims1

    I am a Marine stationed in Yuma. I know those that have died. I have no words, just tears in my eyes and a heavy heart.

    • My son is also at Yuma, and just returned in July from Bastion, my prayers are with you and the loss you are feeling.

  • Pingback: Commanding Officer of the Harrier squadron decimated at Camp Bastion among the Marines killed in the Taliban attack « The Aviationist()

  • Devil

    Avenge the Avengers

  • The totality of the losses should not matter compared to The OUTRAGE of our media, and the ENDLESS REPORTING on this story by the NEWS outlets.

    Foolish me, I just remembered, the last time we had issues addressed that way, we had some pathetic liberal pacifist & chief who was held accountable by the people and served only one term. Let us PRAY to GOD that history does repeat it self.

    By the way, where is a RESPONSE from our President, perhaps they are taking a poll for political suggestions?

    • Marco

      What is he supposed to do, dropping an A-bomb or what? You guys just never learn something at that. Just keep talking big, dude.

      • Eddy Fleming

        A B61 might do the trick.

    • Eddy Fleming

      Pray to god that history doesn’t repeat itself? Dude, where have you been for he last 20,000 years? Go have your prescription pink lenses changed fast!

  • Tim Cheney

    It may well help the USMC Harrier Force to get some of the RAF Harrier GR9s out of storeage and get them back into the air

    • What on earth does that have to do with the major tragedy that is being overlooked here?

  • Anyone ever hear of a firewatch? Trip wires? Claymores?

  • Bruce Keyes

    Shame on our media, they have betrade the country for thier agenda,

  • frank asstrhay

    What happened to the attackers? Nice move from them even though they are the “bad boys”. The are getting more bold and clever.

    • Aims1

      All of the insurgents were killed, except for one. He was wounded and he is in our custody.

  • ski

    It’s Parthia boys and girls, and IT is OVER!! Welcome to the ” Graveyard of Empires” are the latest derelict…

  • Shel Simonovich

    FWIW, it is not THE VMA-211, but VMA-211 when talking or writing about a squadron, except in such as “The VMA-211 Avengers…”
    Also, note the early WW II insignia on the nose of the Harrier in the photos.
    The comments about the 5″ rockets surprised me. The four-shot pods carry 5″ Zuni rockets, a weapon going back to at least the Korean War I believe. They are great weapons. Everything nowadays is a ‘missile,’ and a rock fits that category but in military terminology rockets are ballistic, i.e. go where pointed, while missiles are guided in some fashion. It also is fatuous to talk about ‘dumb bombs’ nowadays. We have smart bombs but the others were just iron bombs that fell according to the laws of physics and still do! They were called ‘bombs’ and they did what they did. Smart weapons do not need a counterpart, only a designation to show that they are guided.
    ‘Dumb bombs’ are just some modern-day BS! Think about the pyramids and how difficult an undertaking it was, but they did the job.

  • Steve Truschel

    We have a Third World-oriented fool for a President who yuks it up on Letterman, hob nobs with the Hollywood swine, and who thinks he is the center of the universe. We lose more American sons and fathers in this endless s–t hole of Afghanistan and the only things that too many so-called “Americans” care about is more “free” stuff from the government. We’ve lost it folks.