Military Wiki
Operation Red Wings
Part of the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
DateJune 27, 2005 – mid-July, 2005[1][2]
LocationSawtalo Sar Mountain, Shuryek (Matin) Valley, Korangal Valley, Pech District, Kunar Province, Afghanistan[1][2][3][4]

Temporary U.S. Pyrrhic victory; Long-term insurgent victory[1][2][3][5]

  • Insurgent forces temporarily withdraw from the area while U.S. forces sustain heavy casualties
  • Insurgent forces return to the area three weeks later
United States

Afghanistan Local anti-Coalition militants

  • Local pro-Taliban nationals
Commanders and leaders
Lieutenant Colonel Andrew MacMannis (USMC)[2]
LCDR Erik S. Kristensen[6]
LT Michael P. Murphy
Ahmad Shah
12 Navy SEALs
8 Night Stalkers
additional helicopter crews
2 MH-47 Chinook
2 UH-60 Black Hawk
2 AH-64D Apache helicopters
Ranging from 8–10 fighters to 70–100 depending on source[2][3][7][8]
Casualties and losses
19 killed, 1 wounded,
1 Chinook helicopter shot down[3][9]

Unknown, with the highest estimate 35 killed[10]

Unknown number of wounded

Operation Red Wings (often incorrectly referred to as Operation Redwing and/or Operation Red Wing[2][3][7][11][12]) was a combined / joint military operation that took place in the Pech District of Afghanistan's Kunar Province, on the slopes of a mountain named Sawtalo Sar,[2][4][7] approximately 20 miles west of Kunar's provincial capital of Asadabad, in Late June through Mid-July 2005.[1][2][3] The goal of Operation Red Wings was the disruption of Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) activity in the region in order to further aid the stabilization efforts of the region for the upcoming September 18, 2005 Afghan National Parliamentary Elections.[1][2][3]

Anti-Coalition Militia activity in the region was carried out at the time most notably by a small group led by a local man (from Nangarhar Province) who had aspirations of regional Islamic fundamentalist prominence named Ahmad Shah, hence he and his small group would be one of the primary targets of the operation. Operation Red Wings, conceived by the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment (2/3) of the U.S. Marine Corps (Red Wings was based on an operational model developed by 2/3's sister battalion, the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment (3/3), who preceded the 2nd Battalion in their combat deployment to Afghanistan), utilized special operations forces (SOF) units and assets, including members of the U.S. Navy SEALs and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command's 160th Special Operation's Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (SOAR(A)), for the opening phase of the operation.[2] A team of four Navy SEALs, tasked for surveillance and reconnaissance of a group of structures known to be used by Ahmad Shah and his men, fell into an ambush by Shah and his group just hours after inserting by fastrope from an MH-47 helicopter in the area.[2] Three of the four SEALs were killed in the ambush; a quick reaction force helicopter sent in for their aid was subsequently shot down with an RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade by one of Shah's men, killing all on board, which consisted of 8 Navy SEALs and 8 U.S. Army Special Operations aviators. The operation then became known as Red Wings II and lasted approximately three more weeks,[1][2] during which time bodies of the deceased SEALs and Army Special Operations aviators were recovered and the only surviving member of the initial four-man surveillance and reconnaissance team, Marcus Luttrell, was rescued.[6] While the goal of the operation, the disruption of Anticoalition Militia activity, was achieved in part, Ahmad Shah regrouped in Pakistan, and returned with yet more men and armament to the area due to the notoriety he gained from the Red Wings ambush and helicopter shootdown. Operationally, Red Wings achieved its stated goal, although temporarily. Shah's group was stricken to a point of inoperability and Shah was seriously wounded during Operation Whalers, which took place in the Kunar Province just weeks after Red Wings drew to a close, in August, 2005.[1][2][7]

Background of Development of Operation Red Wings

SEALs prior to Operation Red Wings (L to R): Matthew Axelson, Daniel R. Healy, James Suh, Marcus Luttrell, Eric S. Patton, Michael P. Murphy

After the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, U.S. Military and coalition partner operations shifted from "kinetic" operations to those of counterinsurgency (COIN) in nature.[2] One of the primary goals of the coalition by 2004 in Afghanistan was nation building, that is, providing a security environment conducive to the establishment and growth of a democratically elected government, as well as infrastructure support.[1][2] A key milestone in this campaign would be the September 18, 2005 Afghan National Parliamentary Elections.[1][2] While many of Afghanistan's provinces at this time had stable security environments, one of the most restive continued to be the Kunar Province, which lies in eastern Afghanistan, on the border with Pakistan. For election results to be seen as legitimate by the citizens of Afghanistan and the world at large, all elections throughout the country would need to proceed "unencumbered" – (without external influence, by either American and coalition forces or Taliban an anti-American and coalition forces), including those in Kunar.[2][7] Insurgent activity in the Kunar Province during this time came from 22 identified groups,[2][7] individual groups of which ranged in allegiance from those with tenuous ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda, to the majority that were little more than local criminals.[2] These groups were collectively known as Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM),[1][2] and the common thread among all was a strong resistance to the unification of the country and subsequent increasing presence of national government entities in the Kunar, as these would pose a threat to their activities, be these activities attempting to aid a resurgent neo-Taliban, to lumber smuggling.[1][2] With the goal of successful elections in Kunar, military operations in the area focused primarily on the disruption of ACM activity, and these military operations utilized a number of different units and operational constructs to achieve this goal.

The 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment (3/3), which deployed to Regional Command (East) (RC(E)) (which included the Kunar Province) in late 2004 to conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, identified a number of operational barriers due to Special Operations Command doctrine for the battalion's counterinsurgency work in the area.[2] These barriers included non-sharing of intelligence with the battalion and non-disclosure of impending raids by special operations units in the area.[13] To mitigate these problems, 3/3's staff developed an operational model which integrated special operations forces units into their operations, allowing the sharing of intelligence between the battalion and special operations forces as well as maintaining solid operational control of operations with integrated special operations assets and units by the battalion.[2][13] Operations that 3/3 conducted based on this model proved successful in disrupting ACM activity. The first of these, Operation Spurs (named after the San Antonio Spurs basketball team), conducted in February 2005, took place in the Korangal Valley, in the Kunar Province's Pech District.[14] Spurs utilized Navy SEALs for the opening two phases of this five phase operation.[2] Similar operations that followed included Operation Mavericks (named after the Dallas Mavericks basketball team), in April, 2005,[15] and Operation Celtics (named after the Boston Celtics basketball team) in May 2005.[16] These operations, all of which included Navy SEALs, were conceived and planned by the battalion, with the specifics of those phases involving Navy SEALs being planned by the SEALs.[2][13] Each operation lasted between three and four weeks.[17] 3/3 planned and executed approximately one of these operations per month, maintaining a consistent operational tempo.[2][17] The culmination of 3/3's efforts was the April, 2005 forced surrender of a regional (and national) "high value" target, an ACM commander known as Najmudeen, who based his operations out of the Korangal Valley.[2][17] With the surrender of Najmudeen, ACM activity in the region dropped significantly. Najmudeen's surrender, however, left a power vacuum in the region.[2][7][17]

3/3 tracked a number of known ACM groups they determined to be possibly seeking to fill the power void in the region. The battalion began planning a new operation, tentatively called Operation Stars (which was named after the Dallas Stars professional hockey team (3/3's battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Cooling, hailed from Texas,[18] hence most operations being named after Texas sports teams)).[2][7][14][15][16][17] Stars, like the other operations before it, focused on disrupting ACM activity, although due to Najmudeen's surrender, this activity had dropped and specific groups proved difficult to pinpoint.[2] In May 2005, the Advanced Party of 3/3's sister battalion, the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment (2/3) arrived in RC(E). Since before deploying to Afghanistan, 2/3's intelligence officer, Captain Scott Westerfield and his assistants, had been tracking a small cell led by a man named Ahmad Shah, based on intelligence sent back by 3/3's intelligence officer. Shah was from a remote region in Nangarhar Province, which borders the Kunar Province. Shah, they determined, was responsible for approximately 11 incidents against coalition forces and Government of Afghanistan entities, including small arms ambushes and improvised explosive device attacks. By June, 2005, 2/3 had relieved-in-place 3/3, and had taken the Stars concept and developed a comprehensive operation, an operation they called Operation Red Wings, with the goal of disrupting Anti-Coalition Militia Activity, with an emphasis on disrupting Ahmad Shah's activities, which were based near the summit of Sawtalo Sar.[1][2][4][7][17]

Naming of Operation Red Wings

The initial convention by which Red Wings was named – that of naming operations after sports teams – began with the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Marines (3/3) which named operations primarily after Texas sports teams. At first, 3/3 used Texas basketball teams for naming their operations (San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks).[2][14][15][17] The operational shell that would become Red Wings, which was developed by 3/3, was named Stars, after the Dallas Stars hockey team. The focus on Texas teams was due to 3/3's battalion commander being from Texas.[2][18] When the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Marine Regiment (2/3) took the Stars model and developed the specifics of it, 2/3's operations officer, Major Thomas Wood, instructed an assistant operations officer, 1st Lieutenant Lance Seiffert, to compose a list of hockey team names.[2][7] 2/3 would continue the use of hockey team names for large operations, just not from teams from Texas.[2] The Seiffert list[19] included ten teams, including the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Detroit Red Wings.[2][7][19] The battalion settled on the name Red Wings, as it was the fourth one down on the list, and the first three, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, and New Jersey Devils each could be misconstrued as a reference to military units currently in Afghanistan at the time.[2][7]

The name has been widely mis-stated as "Operation Redwing" and sometimes "Operation Red Wing." Operation Redwing was a 1956 series of nuclear weapons tests.[20] This error began with the publication of the book Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, which was written by Patrick Robinson based on unrecorded interviews with Marcus Luttrell.[3][11][12][21][22]

2/3 would eventually abandon the convention of naming operations after American sports teams out of sensitivity to the local population, instead opting for using Dari names for animals,[2] including Pil. (elephant)[23] and Sorkh Khar (red donkey)[24]

Intelligence Gathering, and Planning of, Operation Red Wings

A map of the area and plan relating to Operation Red Wings

2/3's battalion staff immediately began planning Operation Red Wings as soon as they arrived in Afghanistan. Lieutenant Colonel Andrew MacMannis, 2/3's battalion commander, and his staff, wanted to maintain the operational tempo set by 3/3. 2/3's Operations Officer, Major Thomas Wood, began planning Red Wings off the Stars base, which was a five phase operation. During this time, 2/3's Intelligence Officer, Captain Scott Westerfield, focused further on learning about Ahmad Shah. His overall intelligence picture of Shah took a substantial leap when 2nd Lieutenant Regan Turner, a platoon commander with 2/3's "Whiskey Company" – a Weapons Company augmented to function like an infantry line company, gathered a wealth of human intelligence about Shah during a patrol, including his full name: Ahmad Shah Dara-I-nur (Ahmad Shah of the Valley of the Enlightened ones); his birthplace, the Kuz Kunar District of Nangarhar Province; his primary alias: Ismael; his chief allegiance: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was based out of the Shamshatoo Refugee Camp near Peshawar, Pakistan; his team's size: fifty to one hundred fighters; and his aspirations: to impede the upcoming elections and attempt to aid a resurgent Taliban in the region. Although Shah was a relatively unknown entity in the region, he apparently held regional aspirations and possibly had the assistance of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. 2nd Lieutenant Turner also gathered a number of photographs of Shah.[2][25][26][27][28]

Further intelligence, including human intelligence and signals intelligence indicated that Shah based his insurgent / terrorist operations out of some small structures outside of the village of Chichal, high on the slopes of Sawtalo Sar mountain in the upper Korangal Valley, approximately 20 miles to the west of Kunar's provincial capital, Asadabad. Using imagery Intelligence, taken from a UAV on June 17, 2005, Westerfield identified likely structures used for housing his team, IED making, and overwatch of the area below, for IED strikes. The intelligence staff identified four Named Areas of Interest, or NAIs containing specific structures in which Shah might be using.[2][4] These Named Areas of Interest and specific buildings were determined by analyzing and processing a number of instances of a variety of intelligence, including signals intelligence, human Intelligence, and imagery Intelligence.[2] Westerfield and his staff determined that Shah and his men had been responsible for approximately 11 incidents against American, Coalition, and Government of Afghanistan entities, including IED strikes and small arms ambushes. They determined that Shah and his men would be occupying the area of Chichal in late June, a time of low lunar illumination. The operation would require a helicopter insert of forces to cordon the area and search for Shah and his men, and they sought to conduct this operation at night, after positive identification of Shah by a Marine Corps Scout / Sniper team, which would walk into the area under cover of darkness some nights before.[2]

As with 3/3 before them, 2/3 sought to use Special Operations Forces assets for Red Wings, but unlike 3/3, they sought only the use of Special Operations Aviation assets, specifically, MH-47 Special Operations Aircraft of the Army Special Operations Command's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (SOAR(A)), and not ground forces. The command from which 2/3's planners requested this, however, CJSOTF-A, or Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – Afghanistan, refused this request, stating that in order for Red Wings to be supported with Special Operations aviation, the battalion would have to task the opening phases of the operation to Special Operations Ground Forces for the opening phases of the operation, with Marines of 2/3 acting in a supporting role. After the initial phases of Red Wings, then 2/3 could be considered the lead, supported element. The battalion agreed to this, realizing, however, that this unconventional command structure defied a fundamental tenet of successful military operations – "unity of command".[1][13] The operation was presented to a number of Special Operations units working in the area for possible "buy in." U.S. Navy SEALs from SEAL Team 10 and SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 expressed interest.[1][2]

Red Wings, as with previous operations after Red Wings was modeled, was planned as a FIVE phase operation:

Phase 1: Shaping: A U.S. Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team is tasked to insert in the region of the suspected safe buildings of Ahmad Shah, observe and identify Shah and his men and specific locations, and guide a direct action team of phase two to structures in which Shah and his men are observed to be staying.

Phase 2: Action on the Objective: A SEAL direct action team is to insert by MH-47, followed shortly by Marines, to capture or kill Shah and his men.

Phase 3: Outer Cordon: Marines, along with Afghan National Army soldiers, are to sweep surrounding valleys for other suspected insurgents.

Phase 4: Security and Stabilization: In the days after the first three phases, Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers and Navy Corpsmen will provide medical care to the local population and determine local needs, such as improved roads, wells, and schools.

Phase 5: Exfiltration: Depending on enemy activity, the Marines will remain in the area for up to one month, then depart the area.

While the Marines planned the overall operation, the SEALs planned the specifics of their roles of Red Wings.[2][7]

Insert, Compromise, and Ambush of SEAL Reconnaissance and Surveillance Team

Late in the night of June 27, 2005, two MH-47 Special Operations Aircraft of the Army Special Operations Command's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (SOAR(A)) approached Sawtalo Sar. As one of the aircraft performed a number of "decoy drops" to confuse any possible enemy on the ground as to the specific purpose of helicopters, the other inserted, via fastrope, a four-man Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team in a saddle between Sawtalo Sar and Gatigal Sar, a peak just to the south of Sawtalo Sar. The insert point was roughly one and one half miles from the nearest Named Area of Interest.[4] The team members were team leader Navy Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1), based out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Petty Officer Second Class Danny P. Dietz from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2 (SDVT-2), based out of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Petty Officer Second Class Matthew G. Axelson from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1); and Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell, of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 1 (SDVT-1).[2][4] After moving to a pre-determined, covered overwatch position, from which the SEALs could observe the Named Areas of Interest, the team was discovered by local goatherds. After determining that they were civilians, and not combatants, Lieutenant Murphy had them released, as was protocol in the area of operations at the time, according to rules of engagement.[2][29]

The team, surmising that they would likely be compromised, retreated to a fallback position. Within an hour, the SEAL Reconnaissance and Surveillance team was ambushed by Shah and his men. The SEALs were attacked by RPK light machine guns, AK-47s, RPG-7 Rocket Propelled Grenades, and 82mm mortars.[2][3] The intensity of the incoming fire, combined with the type of ambush forced the SEAL team into the northeast gulch of Sawtalo Sar, on the Shuryek Valley side of Sawtalo Sar.[2][3][4] The SEALs made a number of attempts to contact their combat operations center with a PRC-148 MBITR (Multi Band Inter/Intra Radio) and then with an Iridium Satellite Phone.[2] The team could not establish consistent communication, other than for a period long enough to indicate that they were under attack.[3] Three of the four team members were killed, and the only survivor, Marcus Luttrell, was left unconscious with a number of fractures and other serious wounds. He regained consciousness and was rescued by local Pashtun, who ultimately saved his life, as in his condition, without assistance, he would surely have been killed or captured by the Taliban.[6][30][31][32]

Operation Red Wings II – Quick Reaction Force, Search, Rescue, Recovery, and Presence Operations

With the communication that the SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team was ambushed, the focus of the operation immediately shifted from disrupting ACM activity to finding, aiding, and extracting the SEALs of the reconnaissance and surveillance team. The operation was now known as Operation Red Wings II.[1]

After the broken transmission from the SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team, the position and situation of the SEALs became unknown. Members of SEAL Team 10, U.S. Marines, and Aviators of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment were prepared to dispatch a quick reaction force, but command for launch from higher special operations headquarters was delayed for a number of hours. A quick reaction force finally launched, consisting of two MH-47 Special Operations Aircraft of the 160th, two UH-60 conventional Army aviation Black Hawk helicopters, and two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. The two MH-47s took the lead. Upon reaching Sawtalo Sar, the two MH-47s received small arms fire. During an attempt to insert SEALs who were riding in one of the MH-47 helicopters, one of Ahmad Shah's men fired an RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade, which struck the transmission below the rear rotor assembly, causing the aircraft to immediately plummet to the ground, killing all eight 160th Army Special Operations Aviators and crew, and all eight Navy SEALs who were passengers. Both commanders of the 160th, Ground commander LCDR Erik S. Kristensen, of SEAL Team 10, and aviation element commander Major Stephen C. Reich, were killed in the shootdown. Command and control (C2) at this point was lost, and neither visual nor radio contact could be established with the SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team. At this point, which was late in the afternoon, storm clouds were moving in over the region. The aircraft returned to their respective bases, and a massive search began, at first from the ground, and then with aviation assets. The 16 bodies of those killed in the MH-47 shootdown were recovered. After an intensive search, the bodies of Dietz, Murphy, and Axelson were eventually recovered, and Marcus Luttrell was rescued, his survival due in part to the aid of a local Afghan villager in the village of Salar Ban, roughly 0.7 miles down the Northeast Gulch of Sawtalo Sar[4] from the location of the ambush.[1][2]

A large amount of resources were devoted to the search, rescue, and recovery operations of Red Wings II. As such, Ahmad Shah and his men left the region and regrouped in Pakistan. During the following weeks of Red Wings II, ground units of 2/3 undertook a number of patrols, as did members of the Afghan National Army, Army Special Operations units, and Navy Special Operations units. These "presence operations" achieved the goal of disrupting anti-coalition militia activity, but at great cost, and upon the exfiltration of troops, Ahmad Shah and his reinforced cell was able to return to the area weeks later.[2]

Aftermath, and Repercussions

Ahmad Shah and his group recovered a large amount of weapons, ammunition, and other materials, including three SOPMOD M4 Carbines fitted with M203 40mm grenade launchers, a ruggedized laptop with an intact hard drive containing maps of embassies in Kabul, night vision equipment, and a sniper spotting scope, among other items from the Navy SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team, items which they could then use against American, Coalition, and Government of Afghanistan entities. Shah had with him two videographers during the ambush, and As-Sahab Media released a video of the ambush and the items recovered from the SEALs.

A tremendous amount of global media attention was focused on the ambush and the MH-47 shootdown. The size of Shah's group increased as additional fighters joined his ranks. With the withdrawal of American and Coalition troops at the end of Red Wings II, Shah and his group was able to return to the Kunar Province and begin attacks again. The "sequel" to Operation Red Wings was Operation Whalers, which 2/3 planned and executed in August 2005.[2][3] Some survivors have suffered from PTSD.[33]

American casualties

Michael P. Murphy, Lt US Navy, Medal of Honor Recipient.

Name Age Action Hometown
Navy SEALs
LT Michael P. Murphy 29 Part of 4-Man SEAL team, killed in an ambush Patchogue, New York
SO2 Matthew Axelson 29 Part of 4-Man SEAL team, killed in an ambush Cupertino, California[34]
SO2 Danny Dietz 25 Part of 4-Man SEAL team, killed in an ambush Littleton, Colorado[34]
SOC Jacques J. Fontan 36 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down New Orleans, Louisiana
SOCS ″Daniel R. Healy 36 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Exeter, New Hampshire
LCDR Erik S. Kristensen 33 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down San Diego, California
SO1 Jeffery A. Lucas 33 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Corbett, Oregon
LT Michael M. McGreevy, Jr. 30 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Portville, New York
SO2 James E. Suh 28 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Deerfield Beach, Florida
SO1 Jeffrey S. Taylor 30 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Midway, West Virginia
SO2 Shane E. Patton 22 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Boulder City, Nevada
160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment[9]
SSG Shamus O. Goare 29 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Danville, Ohio
CWO3 Corey J. Goodnature 35 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Clarks Grove, Minnesota.
SGT Kip A. Jacoby 21 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Pompano Beach, Florida
SFC Marcus V. Muralles 33 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Shelbyville, Indiana
MSG James W. Ponder III 36 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Franklin, Tennessee
MAJ Stephen C. Reich 34 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Washington Depot, Connecticut.
SFC Michael L. Russell 31 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Stafford, Virginia
CWO4 Chris J. Scherkenbach 40 Killed aboard the helicopter when it was shot down Jacksonville, Florida

Army plaque in memory of the fallen Night Stalkers

Military Decorations Awarded and Notable Events Post Operation Red Wings

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, 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 with Pakistani police in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.[35]

On June 28, 2008, Luttrell and the family members of soldiers killed overseas were honored at a San Diego Padres game.[36] 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 Veterans Memorial Park, in Cupertino, California. The statue depicts both Matthew Axelson and James Suh, natives of the region, standing back-to-back.[37]

Afghans who aided Luttrell

In the years following Operation Red Wings more details emerged about the circumstances surrounding Luttrell being given sanctuary by local villagers and the aftermath. Many of the details regarding the Afghans who aided Luttrell were reported incorrectly in the American press during the days after the events occurred.[38]

The SEALs firefight with Ahmad Shah's Taliban forces began along a high-elevation ridgeline called Sawtalo Sar.[39] (The highest peak of this ridgeline is 2830 meters (9,282 feet).[40] A descent down the west side of the ridgeline leads into the Shuryek valley. The northeastern gulch in which the SEALs became trapped was in this direction, above the village of Salar Ban. To the east of the Sawtalo Sar ridgeline is the Korangal valley. As the wounded Luttrell descended the gulch, he encountered a Pashtun named Mohammad Gulab Khan from the mountain village of Salar Ban.[41] Known simply as Gulab, he took Luttrell into his home that first day and evoked the assistance of others from his village to protect Luttrell until American forces could be contacted.

It is likely Luttrell would have been turned over to the Taliban had he descended into the Korangal instead of Shuryek.[42] While the villagers of the Shuryek valley weren't considered overly friendly to American forces they were nonetheless less hostile than villagers in the nearby mountainous Chichal (part of neighboring Korangal), with whom the Shuryek villagers have been traditionally been at odds over grazing-land boundaries.

Not long before Operation Red Wings had occurred, relations with the Americans had improved in the Shuryek Valley and the greater Pech river region because of humanitarian work that had been occurring. Medical services had been extended, and a girls school was built at Nangalam.[42] Gulab was aware of these developments and had introduced himself to the Marine commander at Nangalam, Matt Bartels, when he was visiting Matin.[43] It was within this context that Gulab stumbled upon Luttrell and gave him sanctuary.[44] The Taliban leader, Ahmad Shah, knew that the wounded soldier that he was tracking had to pass through the village of Salar Ban as he contoured downhill. Through intimidation Shah was able to ascertain which house sheltered the wounded soldier and demanded that he be turned over. But Shah couldn't risk a fight at that moment because he was outnumbered and other relatives and villagers would come to Gulab's aid. Luttrell was subsequently moved to different places until forces could arrive to extract him.

Luttrell wrote a note and asked that it be taken to the American base at Asadabad. Because Gulab had previously met the Marine commander based at Nangalam, he asked an older man named Shina, of another part of the village of Salar Ban, to make the trek with the note to that base instead.[41] This required a longer journey down the trails of the Shuryek valley to Matin, where he then hired a cab to drive the Pech road to Nangalam.[45] Gulab gave Shina 1000 Afghanis (about twenty U.S. dollars). When Shina reached the base in Nangalam in the middle of the night he met with the commander and related the story about a wounded American soldier in their village. He then gave him the note that Luttrell had written.[46]

In the weeks following Marcus Luttrell's rescue, Gulab and his family received threats from the Taliban and they were relocated to Asadabad.[38]

Erroneous and Exaggerated Information

There exists some conflict over the exact numbers of Taliban forces involved in the engagement, among other mistakes by some sources. In Luttrell's own official after-action report filed with his superiors after his rescue, he estimated the size of the Taliban force to be around 20–35. Luttrell claims in his book that during the briefing his team was told around 80 to 200 fighters were expected to be in the area.[6] Initial intel estimates estimated approximately 10 to 20.[3] Official media reports from the military estimated the size of the Taliban force to be around 20 as well, while in the Medal of Honor citation for LT Michael P. Murphy, the Navy cited 30–40 enemies.[47] In the Summary of Action related to the same MOH, the Navy cites an "enemy force of more than 50 anti-coalition militia".[48] In his book, Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – the Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan, military journalist Ed Darack cites a military intelligence report stating the strength of the Taliban force to be 8–10, compared to the more than 200 claimed by Patrick Robinson in Lone Survivor. The military intelligence estimate cited by Darack is based on research sourced from intelligence reports, including aerial and eye-witness studies of the battlefield after the fact, including the men sent in to rescue Luttrell, as well as HUMINT from Afghan intelligence.[3][11][12]

The mis-statement of the name of the operation has also been noted by many sources, most notably referencing it "Operation Redwing" by Patrick Robinson in the book Lone Survivor.[11]

The claim in Lone Survivor by Patrick Robinson that Lieutenant Murphy even considered and then put to vote the possible execution of the unarmed civilians who stumbled upon the SEAL reconnaissance and surveillance team has been roundly criticized and dismissed by many as fiction. In an article by Sean Naylor, Army Times senior correspondent, Navy Special Warfare Command spokesman Lieutenant Steve Ruh stated that with respect to making command decisions in the field, "Whether they’re officer or enlisted, the senior guy ultimately has the ultimate authority." And with regards to voting whether or not to execute unarmed civilians, he admitted, “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of anything put to a vote like that. In my 14 years of Navy experience, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that.”[32]

In the June 12, 2007 article Survivor's book dishonors son's memory by Michael Rothfeld in Newsday, Michael P. Murphy's father Dan claims that Lieutenant Murphy would never have considered executing unarmed civilians, let alone putting such a grave decision up for a vote (in reference to the purported vote of execution of unarmed locals). Military protocol, United States and international military doctrine, and rules of engagement strictly forbid harming unarmed non-combatant civilians, with one of the specific rules of engagement in effect at the time stating, "Civilians are not targets!"[29][49][50]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 MacMannis, Colonel Andrew (USMC) and Scott, Major Robert (USMC). "Operation Red Wings: A Joint Failure in Unity of Command, Pages 14–20". Marine Corps Association / Marine Corps Gazette. Retrieved 2012-02-05. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 2.45 2.46 2.47 2.48 2.49 2.50 2.51 Darack, Ed (2010). Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – The Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-425-23259-0. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 Darack, Ed (December 14, 2010). "Operation Red Wings: What Really Happened?". pp. 62–65. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Darack, Ed. "Topographic Map by Ed Darack used in Victory Point of Named Areas of Interest on Sawtalo Sar for Operation Red Wings". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  5. OPERATION RED WINGS – The (Mis)Information Aftermath
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Luttrell, Marcus; Patrick Robinson (2007). Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. Back Bay Books. ISBN 0-316-06759-8. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 Darack, Ed. "Operation Red Wings, Operation Whalers, and the book VICTORY POINT in which they are comprehensively documented". Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  8. Operation Redwing June 28, 2005
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Helicopter crash victims identified". CNN News. July 4, 2005. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 C, Eric. "On Violence: He Got the Title Wrong? And 6 More Mistakes from Luttrell's "Lone Survivor."". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Ricks, Tom. "'Lone Survivor' smackdown". Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Cooling, Colonel Norman L. (USMC). "To Integrate or To Deconflict, That is the Question: An Examination of Contemporary Challenges in Conventional and Special Operations Forces Command and Control". Joint Military Operations Department, Naval War College. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Mattingly, Rich Corporal (USMC). "Operation Spurs". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Mattingly, Rich Corporal (USMC). "Operation Mavericks".,13319,usmc1_040405.00.html. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Scavetta, Rick. "Operation Celtics". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines Staff. "Command Chronology for 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, January through June, 2005". Retrieved 2012-02-05. 
  18. 18.0 18.1 Nerl, Lance Corporal Michael (USMC). "Mountain Marines and Bridgeport Celebrate 233 Years". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Seiffert, 1st Lietuenant Lance, (USMC). "Operation Red Wings Possible Hockey Team Names List by Lance Seiffert". Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  20. Darack, Ed. "Archived Version of Victory Point Web Site, from 2006, Pointing out Difference between Operation Redwing and Operation Red Wings". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  21. Rich, Motoko (2007-08-09). "Books: Lone Survivor". New York Times. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  22. Robinson, Patrick (2010-02-02). "Writing Lone Survivor: The Honor and the Anguish". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  23. Mraz, Steve. "Operation Pil Targets Taliban in Kunar Province". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  24. Storm, Sergeant Robert M., (USMC). "Operation Sorkh Khar (Red Donkey)". Hawaii Marine / MCBH.USMC.MIL. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  25. Unknown Photographer. "Photograph of Ahmad Shah". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  26. Unknown Photographer. "Photograph of Ahmad Shah". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  27. Unknown Photographer. "Photograph of Ahmad Shah". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  28. Unknown Photographer. "Photograph of Ahmad Shah". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Scan of the CJTF-76 (Combined Joint Task Force 76) ROE (Rules of Engagement) Card, With Majority of Rules Blanked Out, And Relevant Rule on Civilians Left for Viewing". Retrieved 2012-02-06. 
  30. Zimmerman, Dwight (December 29, 2011). "Lt. Michael P. Murphy, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE". Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  31. "Lt. Michael P. Murphy USN". United States Navy. October 2007. Retrieved 2012-01-22. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 Naylor, Sean D. (June 18, 2007). "Surviving SEAL tells story of deadly mission". Army Times. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  33. Jeanette Steele (2 February 2013). "Heaing a Broken Life". Retrieved 4 February 2013. 
  34. 34.0 34.1 "U.S. military searches for missing SEAL". CNN News. July 7, 2005. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  35. Dupee, Matt (April 17, 2008). "Bara bin Malek Front commander killed in Pakistani shootout". Long War Journal ( Retrieved 2008-12-10. 
  36. "Operation: Never Forget". Families of American Military, Inc. ( June 30, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-14. 
  37. Wilson, Matt (November 19, 2008). "Cupertino ceremony honors uniformed men and women". San Jose Mercury News ( 
  38. 38.0 38.1 Darack – p. 142. (NOTE: Many of the details regarding the Afghans who aided Luttrell were reported incorrectly in the American press during the days after the events occurred. Darack lists these on p. 142)
  39. Aerial Map of Sawtalo Sar region,
  40. Topographic Map of Sawtalo Sar region –
  41. 41.0 41.1 Darack, Ed (2010). Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – The Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan. Penguin. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-425-23259-0. Retrieved 2011-12-03. 
  42. 42.0 42.1 Darack – p. 126.
  43. Darack – p. 130.
  44. Darack. – p.131.
  45. Satellite image via Google Maps of location of Nangalam in Afghanistan. –
  46. Darack – p. 133.
  47. "Official Citation". June 28, 2005. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  48. "Summary of Action". June 28, 2005. Retrieved 2011-06-13. 
  49. Rothfeld, Michael (June 12, 2007). "Survivor's book dishonors son's memory – NOTE: Original not available, but cached at the site "Shadowspear"". Newsday. Retrieved 2008-07-21. 
  50. Darack, Ed (May, 2010). "Operation Red Wings Misinformation". Retrieved 2012-02-07. 


  • Darack, Ed (2009). Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers – The Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan. Berkley Hardcover. ISBN 0-425-22619-0. 
  • Luttrell, Marcus; Patrick Robinson (2007). Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. Back Bay Books. ISBN 0-316-06759-8. 
  • Williams, Gary (2010). Seal of Honor: Operation Redwing and the Life of LT. Michael P. Murphy, USN. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-957-6. 

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