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Operation Red Wing was a counter-insurgent mission in Kunar province, Afghanistanmarker, 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 Nightstalker pilots) whose helicopter was shot down while flying to provide support and rescue to the team.

Marcus Luttrell, 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 firefight

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 Asadabadmarker.

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 free.

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 Basemarker, 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.

Failed rescue

Matthew G.
Axelson; Daniel R.
Healy, James Suh, Marcus Luttrell, Shane E.
Patton, and Lt.
Michael P.
Murphy prior to the battle.
Two MH-47D helicopters, four 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 Nightstalkers, was shot down by a rocket propelled grenade shot 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 a ravine, 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 Latifollah Hakimi, 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 First Lieutenant Matt Bartels with his information.

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.

American casualties

Army plaque in memory of the fallen Nightstalkers
SEAL Team:
  • 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:

Nightstalkers:

SEALs:

Aftermath

Lt.
Michael P.
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 Housemarker. In 2007, Lieutenant Murphy was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.

In April 2008, Ahmad Shah, who was the target of Operation Red Wings, was killed during a shootout against Pakistanimarker police in the North-West Frontier Provincemarker.

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.

A statue entitled The Guardians stands in the Cupertino Memorial Park, in Cupertino, Californiamarker. The statue depicts both Matthew Axelson and James Suh, natives of the region, standing back-to-back.

References


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