Thirty-one American soldiers have been killed as insurgents shot down a NATO Chinook transport helicopter early Saturday. That one incident made it the deadliest day for U.S. troops since the Afghan war began in 2001.
The service members were on a night-raid mission in the Tangi Valley of Wardak Province when a rocket-propelled grenade, a coalition officer said, brought down their helicopter.
The official said the military does “not have any indication that it was anything other than militant fire that brought the helicopter down.
Of the thirty-one soldiers killed about twenty of them were Navy SEALS, five were Army air crew, and several U.S. airmen. Seven Afghan troops and one interpreter also died when the helicopter went down.
“The numbers are high,” said one official. “It’s a big loss.”
The SEALS were part of the SEAL Team Six, the unit that carried out the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. However, none of those killed in the crash were members of the actual SEALs mission that killed bin Laden.
President Obama issued a statement on the tragedy, saying, “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan.”
“Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families,” he said.
It is rare for Western helicopters to be taken down by hostile fire; more helicopters are lost to mechanical problems or bad weather.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack and said its fighters had ambushed the American soldiers after learning about the night raid.
Abdul Qayuum Baqizoi, Wardak police chief, said the U.S. strike was aimed at a meeting of insurgent leaders in a really dangerous district.
“This area isn’t even safe for security forces to travel in,” Baqizoi said.
Zabiullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman attested the “martyrdom” of eight Taliban fighters in what was described as a violent fight before shooting the helicopter down.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has not said how the incident occurred and it is not clear if the helicopter incident and raid are connected. Officials are keeping details under-wraps because recovery operations are still in progress. Also body identifications and family notifications are just starting, said a U.S. military official.
ISAF commander Gen. John R. Allen said, “No words describe the sorrow we feel in the wake of this tragic loss. All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom.”
Targeted night time strikes have been the most successful tactic, and have usually been carried out by U.S. special-operations forces. These night time raids have caused considerable damage to the field-command structure of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.