Sunday, September 16, 2012

Brazen Taliban assault cripples U.S Marine Harrier squadron

VMA-211 AV-8B Harrier in 2009. Click for high-resolution image

In a brazen assault reminiscent of the attacks by the Vietcong against American airbases during the Vietnam War, the Taliban in Afghanistan have destroyed six United States Marine Corps (USMC) AV-8B Harrier jump jets on the ground and "significantly" damaged two other Harriers at Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province on Friday. According to a statement by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF):

The attack commenced just after 10 p.m. when approximately 15 insurgents executed a well-coordinated attack against the airfield on Camp Bastion. The insurgents, organized into three teams, penetrated at one point of the perimeter fence.

The insurgents appeared to be well equipped, trained and rehearsed.

Dressed in U.S. Army uniforms and armed with automatic rifles, rocket propelled grenade launchers and suicide vests, the insurgents attacked Coalition fixed and rotary wing aircraft parked on the flight line, aircraft hangars and other buildings.

Six Coalition AV-8B Harrier jets were destroyed and two were significantly damaged. Three Coalition refueling stations were also destroyed. Six soft-skin aircraft hangars were damaged to some degree.

The Harriers were from the Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 "Avengers", normally based at Yuma, Arizona. Two coalition members, including the squadron's Commanding Officer, Lt. Col. Chris "Otis" Raible, were also killed during the attack. Given that a typical Marine Harrier squadron deploys with ten jets, and with approximately 120 active aircraft currently in the Marines' inventory, having eight aircraft put out of action (1/15 or 7% of the fleet) in one single action would be a big blow to the Marines, as well as ISAF operations in and around Camp Bastion. The Avengers were deployed to Afghanistan since May 2012, and had operated from Camp Bastion since July.

Camp Bastion is usually regarded as a relatively safe operating location due to its remoteness in the deserts of Helmand, away from built up areas and devoid of cover which can be used to conceal the approach of insurgents. In a statement, the Taliban claimed that they were attempting to kill Britain's Prince Harry, who had recently been deployed to Camp Bastion, and also engaging in the attack to get retribution for the recently viral video about Prophet Muhammed and Islam.

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