Operation Red Wing was a
counter-insurgent mission in
Kunar province, Afghanistan, involving four members of the United States Navy SEALs, which
took place on June 28, 2005.
Three of the SEALs were killed during the initial operation, as
were other American Special Operations soldiers (SEAL's and
pilots) whose helicopter
was shot down while flying to provide support and rescue to the
, the only surviving
American soldier, was protected by local villagers who sent an
emissary to the closest military base allowing a rescue team to
locate the wounded SEAL.
The map given to the Navy SEALs
detailing their mission.
The SEAL team, led by Lt. Michael
P. Murphy and
consisting of petty officers Matthew
Axelson, Danny Dietz and Marcus Luttrell, were on a mission to kill
or capture Ahmad Shah, a
Taliban leader who commanded a group of
insurgents known as the "Mountain Tigers," west of Asadabad.
After an initially successful infiltration, local goat herders
stumbled upon the SEALs' hiding place. Unable to verify any hostile
intent from the herders, Murphy asked the team what should be done
with them. Axelson reportedly voted to kill the Afghans, and Dietz
didn't offer an opinion, causing Murphy to state that he would vote
the same as Luttrell, who said the herders should be set
Shortly after the goatherders disappeared over the mountain ridge,
the SEALs were confronted by a force of Afghan fighters, estimated
between 50-200 strong, causing Luttrell to believe that the
released herders had given away their position.
The insurgents set up a "well organized, three-sided attack", which
forced the SEALs to begin running down the slope. After 45 minutes of
fighting, Dietz abandoned the cover of the forest and ran into the
open intent on placing a distress call
for immediate support from Bagram Air Base, but was shot in the hand.
Murphy then moved into the open himself, after noting the team's
radio transmitters weren't functioning properly in the mountains,
and placed the emergency call for support from his cell phone
. He was shot in the stomach during the
conversation. Nevertheless he returned to his cover after the call
and continued to battle.
After two hours of fighting, only Luttrell remained alive, although
he was lying unconscious behind a ridge where he had been knocked
out by the blast of a rocket-propelled grenade
Healy, James Suh, Marcus Luttrell, Shane E.
Murphy prior to the battle.
UH-60 Blackhawks and two AH-64D Longbows attempted to come to their
rescue to provide extraction in the mountains of Kunar. One of the
MH-47 helicopters, carrying eight Navy SEALs and eight 160th
, was shot down by a rocket propelled grenade
through the open rear ramp, causing the pilot to lose control of
the craft. It hit a mountain ledge, and then fell to the bottom of
, killing all sixteen on board.
Shah, the original target of the SEAL team, later gave an interview
where he claimed that his forces had set a trap for the American
forces, "We certainly know that when the American army comes
under pressure and they get hit, they will try to help their
friends. It is the law of the battlefield.
Search and rescue
The only survivor of the attack, Luttrell tried to hide himself as
he waited for rescue from the search helicopters flying overhead.
Driven by thirst, shot in the leg and with three cracked vertabrae
, he traversed 7 miles over the remainder
of the day. He remained unnoticed until, falling from a ledge, he
was discovered by an Afghan shepherd named Gulab, who summoned his
companions to help carry the wounded Luttrell to the village of
Sabray-Minah. The villagers took care of Luttrell, providing food
and medical attention, and protecting him from the Taliban that
came to the village demanding that he be turned over to them.
Meanwhile, nearly two days after the initial confrontation, the
military had 300 men searching for the team, and had located the
downed helicopter and verified that all 16 aboard had been killed.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Mofti
, confirmed that the helicopter had been shot
down by insurgent fire, and promised to deliver the video made
during the assault to media outlets.
Despite multiple attempts, the search helicopters were unable to
locate the wounded Navy SEAL. On July 2, the village elder, armed
with a note from Luttrell, went down to seek help from Camp
Blessing, a Marine outpost several miles away, and approached
Matt Bartels with
With this news, the U.S. forces drew up extraction plans which
according to Lt. Col. Steve Butow were "one of the largest combat
search-and-rescue operations since Vietnam
". As the rescue teams closed in upon the
village they ran into Luttrell and some of the villagers who were
moving him from one hiding place to another.
Six days after the operation, an American search team located
Murphy's body. For the next four days, they held out hopes that
Axelson might be found alive.
Army plaque in memory of the fallen
- LT Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, New York
- STG2 (SEAL) Matthew Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, CA
- GM2 (SEAL) Danny Dietz, 26, of Littleton, Colorado
The service members killed aboard the helicopter include:
- Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare, 29, of Danville, Ohio
- Chief Warrant Officer Corey
J. Goodnature, 35, of Clarks
- Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby, 21, of Pompano Beach, Florida
- Sgt. 1st Class Marcus V.
Muralles, 33, of Shelbyville,
- Master Sgt. James W.
Ponder III, 36, of Franklin,
- Maj. Stephen C. Reich, 34, of Washington Depot,
- Sgt. 1st Class Michael L.
Russell, 31, of Stafford,
- Chief Warrant Officer Chris
J. Scherkenbach, 40, of
- FCC(SEAL/SW) Jacques J.
Fontan, 36, of New Orleans,
- ITCS(SEAL) Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, New Hampshire
- Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego,
- ET1(SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Oregon
- Lt. Michael M. McGreevy, Jr., 30, of Portville,
- QM2(SEAL) James E. Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Florida
- HM1(SEAL/FMF) Jeffrey S.
Taylor, 30, of Midway, West
- MM2(SEAL) Shane E. Patton, 22, of Boulder City, Nevada
Murphy, Medal of Honor Recipient.
On September 14, 2006, Dietz and Axelson were posthumously awarded
the Navy Cross
for "undaunted courage"
and heroism. Luttrell was also awarded the Navy Cross in a ceremony at the White House.
In 2007, Lieutenant Murphy was posthumously
awarded the Medal of Honor
actions during the battle.
2008, Ahmad Shah, who was the
target of Operation Red Wings, was killed during a shootout against
Pakistani police in the North-West
Additionally, June 28, 2008, Luttrell and the family members of
soldiers killed overseas were honored at a San Diego Padres
game. In addition, the
United States Navy Parachute Team, the Leap Frogs, brought in the
American flag, the POW/MIA
flag and the San
Diego Padres flag. The attendees were given a standing ovation by
the more than 25,000 there to watch the game.
entitled The Guardians stands in the Cupertino Memorial Park, in Cupertino,
The statue depicts both Matthew Axelson and
James Suh, natives of the region, standing back-to-back.