On August 6, 2011, 38 people boarded a CH-47 Chinook with the callsign Extortion 17. They were in Afghanistan and it was middle of the night. The helicopter had a crew of 5 made up of US Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers. The flight crew was one of the most experienced in the military. The passengers included US military Joint Special Operations Command personnel including Navy SEALs, Navy EOD technicians, Air Force Special Tactics Squadron members, and Afghan National Army Soldiers. There was also one US military working dog on board.
They were headed for The Tangi Valley, which is southwest of Kabul. The force was acting as an immediate reaction force, known colloquially as an IRF, to aid a team of US Army Rangers who were engaged in fighting Taliban troops. The Rangers weren’t in trouble, but they needed additional men to act as a blocking force to prevent the enemy from escaping.
The flight wasn’t a long one, and the CH-47 is a fast helicopter, despite its bulky appearance. It took only 15 minutes from takeoff to get to the landing zone. The planners had carefully selected the landing zone, and no one on board expected any hostile forces to be within the immediate area.At 02:38 local time, a group of Taliban fighters who had been previously undetected fired two Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) at the helicopter. One struck the rear rotor blade assembly, and the helicopter crashed immediately. All 38 people on board were killed instantly. The crash is considered the single greatest loss of life in any engagement in Afghanistan.
Out of the 38 killed, two were from right here in Shreveport – Lieutenant Commander (SEAL) Jonas B. Kelsall, 32 and Special Warfare Operator Chief Petty Officer (SEAL) Robert J. Reeves, 32. They were members of the United States Navy’s most elite group of warriors, The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, popularly known as Seal Team Six. They were members of DEVGRU’s Gold Squadron.The details of the mission have come to light in a new book by Ed Darack. Darack is a photographer and journalist who was embedded with Marine Corps units in Afghanistan while researching his book Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – The Marine Corps’ Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan. Darack has been to Afghanistan 4 times and Iraq an additional two. He first heard about the story of Extortion 17 from a friend of his, Darren Freyer, who is an Army Helicopter Pilot and instructor at the US Army’s High Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (HAATS) school in Colorado. The two men met when Darack wrote a piece about the school in The Smithsonian’s Air & Space Magazine. After that article was published, the pilots at HAATS became familiar with Darack’s work and knew if anyone could tell the complete and true story, it was him.
In his new book, The Final Mission of Extortion 17, Darack goes in-depth into the lives of the people who were on that fateful mission. He spends equal parts describing the mission details and describing the lives of the men who died.
“Getting to know the families was the best part, but also the hardest part,” he said in an interview. Darack talked to several of the mission survivors, friends of the fallen, and their family members. “I talked to the daughters of one of the pilots, and that was incredibly sad.”
Despite the difficulty in telling the story, Darack was determined to bring the full and correct details of the mission to light.“There has been so much misinformation and also ridiculous conspiracy theories about the mission,” Darack said. He felt he had a responsibility to honor the men who died on that mission and make sure that the truth about what happened came out.
Part of that story was Jonas Kelsall. Kelsall was the commanding officer of the SEAL team that was on board. “He was a great guy and a great SEAL,” Darack said. During the planning phase of the mission, Kelsall worked directly with the aviation commanders to ensure the safest and most effective plan of attack was implemented.
The Final Mission of Extortion 17 serves as a monument to the men who fought and died in Afghanistan on August 6th. The friends and family of the fallen have thanked Darack for getting it right and leaving such an awesome tribute piece to their legacy.
You can pick up The Final Mission of Extortion 17 at http://www.extortion17book.com/