Fallen Angel – Call Sign: Extortion 17 is a 2021 documentary that walks the viewer through the August 6, 2011 downing of an Army Chinook CH-47 that extinguished the lives of 30 Americans, a service dog, and eight Afghans. Among those killed were 17 SEALs, most of whom were Team Six’s gold squadron members. Extortion 17 resulted in the single worst loss of life in the Afghanistan War and the worst loss of life in special operations’ history.
The film weaves an impressive collection of reenactments coupled with compelling, often heartbreaking interviews with family of the fallen. Experts, Rangers on the ground, and the fire control officer aboard the C-130 are interviewed, in addition to interviews of soldiers who dispute the official DOD narrative.
The viewer is left with more questions than answers. All told, the documentary offers a troubling — if not uncommon — picture of deception, obfuscation, and lack of accountability by the Pentagon. The Pentagon presented a jigsaw that, when the reviewer tries to assemble it, won’t produce a matching mosaic.
Beyond the obvious culprits that night (bad guys with guns and RPGs), the film points a rightful finger at America’s absurd Rules of Engagement (ROE). ROEs have hamstrung our warfighters since at least Vietnam. ROEs are not rules of war, and the film makes that clear – they are self-imposed “rules” that have, without doubt, resulted in American casualties. ROEs and officers on-duty on the night of August 6, 2011, almost certainly caused the worst loss of life in the Afghanistan war.
As a matter of background and reference, ROEs in Vietnam prevented combat pilots from firing on MiGs unless the pilot could see the enemy. Why? Because a pilot needed to see “hostile intent” first. This resulted in making radar-guided missiles useless because those missiles were designed to fire before visually seeing “intent.” A tool designed to kill the enemy before the enemy could kill our warfighters was rendered illegal pursuant to Robert McNamara’s ROEs. A SAM had to be fired first before pilots could engage a SAM site. During the firefight in Mogadishu, portrayed in Black Hawk Down, soldiers were prevented from firing first. Bad guys carrying guns wasn’t enough evidence — the hostiles needed to take a shot at our guys before our guys could defend themselves.
Extortion 17’s filmmakers offer that ROEs were a main cause of the disaster. They’re right. Before the Chinook was wheels-up, Rangers on the ground had engaged combatants and had killed all but two. These two “squirters” had disengaged and were running from the Rangers. There is no doubt that they had fired on the Rangers and were identified by the circling C130H crew as “hostiles.” The fire control officer, Captain Joni Marquez, requested permission to kill them. That request was clearly within ROEs and undoubtedly within rules of war, yet the request was denied. Subsequent pleas by Capt Marquez were also denied. These two were then clearly observed gathering other men. There is no doubt that that group fired RPGs at Extortion 17, and with little doubt delivered the kill-shot on Extortion 17.
The film delves into the aftermath and the Pentagon’s attempt to whitewash and hide evidence about what happened. Although we will never know what really happened, the film offers a number of disturbing questions and tantalizing theories.
For instance, why did the Pentagon produce a witness for a congressional hearing who almost certainly lied or was ill-informed? The Pentagon’s witness stated under oath that the Chinook didn’t have a “black box” voice recorder. This claim is contradicted in the film by two soldiers who had worked on the Chinook who said, unequivocally, that that Chinook had a black box.
Why did the Pentagon claim that the “black box” didn’t exist, but also claim that the black box was washed away in a “flood”? We can locate a voice recorder in 10,000 feet of black ocean but not in a shallow creek bed? If it never existed why did they send soldiers of Mountain 10 Div. to retrieve it?
Why were all the bodies cremated? None of the families requested cremation. The Pentagon claimed that all the bodies were burned in the subsequent fire. That claim is false. At least four men fell out of the Chinook intact. An army mortician who handled remains is still traumatized, not by seeing bodies but by witnessing the Pentagon lie to families.
The Pentagon has dismissed the families of dead SEALs as conspiracy theorists. This is the same Pentagon that invented a story out of whole cloth and lied to the family of Pat Tillman, and then lied to America. The same Pentagon that knew that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, and mythologized his demise to create a heroic death, has repeatedly lied about Extortion 17.
The film dives into deeper and darker questions that I will leave to those who want to see the film. Two things I carry away from the film are:
- ROEs and the officer(s) who repeatedly denied Captain Marquez permission to kill the bad guys are responsible for 30 American lives. She remains depressed and was once suicidal over her inability to prevent the Extortion 17 disaster.
- The Pentagon is loaded with liars and incompetent general staff. The “boots” on the ground are the heroes but they are constantly having their legs undercut by bureaucrats and toadies in and out of uniform.
My son was a SEAL in 2011 and deployed as an augment with DEVGRU. I recall speaking with him after Extortion 17 and after the official narrative was released. He said two things I remember: The loss was devastating — that the warriors lost were “irreplaceable” — and the explanation was “bullshit.”
FALLEN ANGEL – Call Sign: Extortion 17 is worth a watch.
Editor’s Note: FALLEN ANGEL – Call Sign: Extortion 17 is a production of SalemNow, part of Salem Media Group, the parent company of RedState.com.