Helicopters key to successful U.S. commando raid that killed ISIS leader

The U.S. Delta Force commandos and their now-famous military working dog who successfully cornered and killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi over the weekend were ferried to the terrorist’s hideout on a mixed fleet of eight Special Operations attack and heavylift helicopters.

Reports indicate the Boeing MH-47 Chinook was almost certainly the tandem-rotor heavylift helicopter used in the Baghdadi raid. This is the same aircraft the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment provided for the raid in which Bin Laden was killed. Sgt Reed Knutson Photo

There is some confusion over which helicopters were used in the operation, though President Donald Trump divulged the number involved during a 48-minute press conference Sunday morning.

“When we landed with eight helicopters, a large crew of brilliant fighters ran out of those helicopters and blew holes into the side of the building, not wanting to go through the main door because that was booby-trapped,” Trump said Oct. 27 in an unusually candid summation of the raid. “We had eight helicopters and we had many other ships and planes. It was a large group.”

Almost all reports agree that the fleet involved in the nighttime raid consisted mostly of the Special Operations Forces Boeing MH-47, a souped-up special-ops version of the Army’s CH-47 Chinook tandem-rotor heavylift helicopter.

The Chinooks were escorted by either Boeing AH-64E Apache gunships, Sikorsky MH-60M/L Black Hawks or both, according to various reports.

Neither the official White House or Pentagon statements announcing the raid and Baghdadi’s death specified what units were involved in the action. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen Mark Milley, speaking from the Pentagon on Oct. 28, only said the raid was carried out by helicopter.

“During the mission, U.S. forces were infiltrated by helicopter, and once on the objective, secured the target compound,” Milley said. “The assault force was engaged in small arms fire and the threats were quickly eliminated. Our forces isolated the compound and protected all of the non-combatants.”

Trump mentioned Russian and Turkish presence in the operation, but did not elaborate. The next day Milley confirmed that all the “actions on the objective, the aircraft coming in, the aircraft overhead and the soldiers conducting the assault, was a U.S.-only operation.”

Some reports have pointed to the Army’s Special Forces Operational Detachment-D, commonly called “Delta” or “Delta Force,” neither of which are Army-sanctioned titles for the unit.

Others identified the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) — called the Night Stalkers — as the unit responsible for transporting the commandos from northern Iraq into Syria and back again. The 160th was responsible for rotorcraft involved in the 2011 raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan.

U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command also often transports U.S. Special Operations Forces into battle, but no reports have mentioned the Bell Boeing CV-22 Osprey tiltrotors they sometimes fly as being involved in the Baghdadi raid.


The MH-47 Chinook was almost certainly the tandem-rotor heavylift helicopter used in the raid. The Special Forces-specific model is similar to the Big Army’s CH-47F, but is fitted with an aerial refueling probe, rescue hoist, fast-rope rappelling system, two 7.62 mm miniguns, radar warning receivers and other top-secret sensors, classified avionics and protective capabilities.

Special Operations Command’s aviation units also fly the MH-60K/L Black Hawk, which are usually used to transport fewer commandos over shorter distances. This version of the UH-60 also features radar warning receivers, M60, M240 or GAU-2 machine guns and other classified capabilities.

The 160th SOAR does not operate the AH-64 Apache that some reports indicate escorted the troop transports into Syria. It does fly several versions of the A/M-H6 Little Bird attack helicopter.

The Baghdadi raid was carried out by U.S. Army Special Operations Forces instead of the Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) commandos that carried out the 2011 raid in which Bin Laden was killed. The 160th provided two heavily modified Black Hawks and MH-47s for that mission.

During that raid, a highly classified stealth version of the UH-60 crashed into a wall, severing its tail boom. The helicopter was destroyed by SEALS and the wreckage was left when they evacuated with Bin Laden’s corpse.

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