Details of a Taliban suicide mission designed in part to kill Britain’s Prince Harry that resulted in the death of two U.S. Marines and the worst loss of military aircraft since the Vietnam War appear in the September issue of GQ magazine.
The attack at a British airbase, Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, happened almost one year ago while the prince, known as Capt. Harry Wales in the military, was stationed at the base for a three-month tour flying an attack helicopter.
News of the attack isn’t new, but the Daily Mail plays up the assassination angle with a Tolstoy-length headline: “Revealed: How Prince Harry was whisked to safe-house as US Marines battled Taliban suicide-squad who infiltrated base in assassination attempt.”
Third in line to the British throne at the time, Prince Harry surely made an appealing target to the enemy. “We have informed our commanders … to eliminate him,” the Taliban told the Daily Mail two days before the attack.
A NATO spokesperson said the threat was “not a matter of concern” because Camp Bastion, the largest overseas airbase Britain has built since World War II, was considered impregnable to any assault the Taliban could muster.
But, on the night of Sept. 14, 2012, a group of 15 Taliban soldiers wearing stolen U.S. Army uniforms crawled through the base’s defenses armed with rocket propelled grenades and assault weapons.
GQ reports the British had assigned security to a group of soldiers from the tiny island nation of Tonga.
Soon, the suicide squad was firing RPGs at grounded U.S. warplanes — creating huge fireballs in the night sky — and a team of U.S. Marines trained to serve as plane mechanics became the first line of defense.
As more planes exploded, an officer that rushed to the scene, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Raible, asked for volunteers to “take the fight to these guys.”
The mechanics of the Third Air Wing swapped their wrenches for M-16s.
The base’s immense size worked against it. More than 30 minutes into the attack no support from British or U.S. forces had arrived.
As the mechanics waged war, an RPG killed U.S. Marine Sgt. Bradley Atwell.
Another Marine officer, Major Robb McDonald, was awoken by the explosions and ran a mile to the maintenance shed the mechanics were trying to defend. He found his commanding officer, Raible, dead from a shrapnel wound to his neck.
An hour into the battle the Americans had attack helicopters in the night sky, but smoke from the explosions and the continuing battle made it difficult to determine which group of combatants should be fired upon.
McDonald radioed a helicopter pilot and told him to fire on his own position, which ended the fight.
After rushing Prince Harry to a secure location, the British arrived from their position two miles away. But by then 14 of the 15 Taliban were dead. The 15th was captured alive.
Two Marines were dead and more than a dozen U.S. and British soldiers were injured. Six Harrier jets and a C-130 were smoking ruins. Other planes were heavily damaged. The net loss of military hardware was estimated at $200 million.
Al Jazeera reported the attack was in response to the anti-Islamic film, “Innocence of Muslims,” which had sparked protests, and that Prince Harry was the target of a “high-value plan.”
The attack left many questions concerning military security.
“Why would we entrust a tiny Third World country [Tonga] to safeguard our Marines?” asked Donnella Raible, who is now raising three kids on her own.
A good question. Other good ones might be “Why does England send members of the Royal Family into combat zones?” and “Why does the U.S. try to coordinate military actions with nations that are not that helpful?”