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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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