Late on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, a Taliban insurgent force of sappers attacked the NATO ISAF base, Camp Bastion, in Afghanistan, resulting in the worst loss of U.S. airpower in a single incident since the Vietnam War. Two Marines, including VMA-211’s commanding officer, were killed in the attack, and nine other personnel (eight military and one contractor, reportedly) were wounded. By the time the base was secured roughly five hours later, six U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) AV-8B+ Harrier “jump jets” had been destroyed, and two more “significantly” damaged. In addition, three refueling points were destroyed, and six “soft-skinned” aircraft hangers were damaged to some degree. As a result of this attack, the air strength of Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211 – “The Avengers”) presumably 10 aircraft, was almost completely destroyed.
Camp Bastion is a British-run ISAF base in Helmand Providence northwest of Lashkar Gah, built adjacent to Camp Leatherneck (the primary USMC base in the area) and Camp Shorabak (run by the Afghan National Army). Equipped with a 3,500-meter (11,482 foot) runway and servicing up to 28,000 personnel, it is the largest British base in Afghanistan. One of them, on Sept. 14, was an AH-64 Apache crewman named Capt.“Wales,” otherwise known as Harry, Prince of Wales. Along with the British Apaches and other U.K. aircraft, Camp Bastion also provides basing for USMC aviation units, including VMA-211, the only Harrier squadron then in Afghanistan.
As they began to attack the flightline areas, however, the RAF security force began to react within just 12 minutes, when they established an MQ-9 Reaper UAV orbit over the camp. This was followed by the launch of a British Apache helicopter that immediately engaged the insurgents, killing several. In addition, the British ground security force began to fight its way toward Camp Barber over the main runway, reportedly expending around 10,000 rounds of ammunition in the process. It took five hours to secure the base and police up the insurgents.
When the sun rose the next day, the deadly cost of the Taliban raid began to be seen. Fourteen of the 15 insurgent sappers were killed, along with two of their support force outside the fence. One insurgent was wounded and captured, and is providing useful information on this latest “Green on Blue” Taliban attack. The Allied casualties, however, are proving heartbreaking. Killed during the attack were Lt. Col. Christopher “Otis” K. Raible, USMC (the commander of VMA-211) and Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell (from Marine Air Logistics Squadron 13), both based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz.
Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant, USMC, commander of Marine Aircraft Wing Three (Forward), has announced that replacements for the lost aircraft and personnel will be “brought forward,” suggesting VMA-211 will be reconstituted in place. While VMA-211’s executive officer, Maj. John “Strut” Havener, USMC, has been named the interim squadron commander, it is possible another Harrier squadron will be deployed and the Avengers returned to their home base at MCAS Yuma.