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

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kevin T. Smalley, AV-8B Harrier pilot, Marine Attack Squadron 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), launches at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 1, 2012. Smalley launched the aircraft in support of ground combat operations.

Taliban’s attack on Camp Bastion killed two U.S. Marines and destroyed or severely damaged eight U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and a United States Air Force C-130.

On Friday Sept. 14, 2012, 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.

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kevin T. Smalley, left, AV-8B Harrier pilot, and Lance Cpl. Ryan P. Eggemeyer, plane captain both with Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), perform function checks on the aircraft before flight at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 1, 2012. They conducted pre-flight checks before launching the aircraft.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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.

    • 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

  2. 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

  3. 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..

  4. 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.

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