Damn. Just when I thought that with Osama gone, things is going to be easier for the American troops.
My deepest condolences to the brave souls.
An Afghan insurgent armed with a rocket-propelled grenade shot down a coalition helicopter early Saturday morning, killing 38, including 30 American troops, Afghan officials said, in the single largest loss of U.S. lives since the war began a decade ago.
Among those killed in the attack, according to Afghan and Western officials, were at least 20 members of the Navy SEALs, the famed special operations force that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden three months ago in Pakistan.
While a U.S. official said none of those killed on Saturday took part in the Pakistan operation, the deaths delivered a devastating blow to the close-knit group of fighters hailed as the elite of the American military. “It’s the worst day in their history by a magnitude of ten,” one person familiar with the SEALs said.
The U.S. military in Kabul said that 30 U.S. service members, one civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos died in the crash of a Chinook CH-47 helicopter. Military officials in Kabul said they were still investigating the incident. In Washington, a U.S. official said the military believed the chopper had been shot down by insurgents, but couldn’t say whether it was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade.
“No words describe the sorrow we feel in the wake of this tragic loss,” said U.S. Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of coalition forces. “All of those killed in this operation were true heroes.”
Saturday’s attack was the deadliest of the war. It came at a time when U.S. officials have been touting military statistics showing a downturn in violence across Afghanistan.
So far this year, 374 American and coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, according to iCasualties, a Web site that tracks casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, top U.S. commanders have argued that the U.S.-led surge has weakened the Taliban, creating a tangible decrease in insurgent activity this summer.
But the insurgency has still shown its ability to deliver serious blows to the U.S-led coalition and the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. Karzai Saturday expressed his condolences to President Barack Obama. In a statement, Mr. Obama called Saturday’s deaths “a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families.”
The chopper was downed in a known insurgent stronghold in Afghanistan’s central Wardak province where Afghan officials said the joint military team was carrying out a night raid targeting Taliban fighters.
A lone militant using a rocket-propelled grenade shot down the Chinook as it was taking off after the raid, according to two Afghan government officials.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed credit for the attack and said eight Taliban also died during the battle in the Tangee Valley, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul.
Mr. Mujahid said Taliban fighters were meeting in the remote area Saturday night when the U.S.-led special operations team attacked the gathering.
Mansour Majab, a resident of the area, said insurgents had taken control of the area in recent months after U.S. and Afghan forces moved out.
Mr. Majab said he saw four to six helicopters in the village around 2 a.m. Saturday morning, as he rose for a pre-dawn meal before beginning his dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
An hour later, Mr. Majab said, he “heard a rocket shot” and went up to his roof to see what was happening. “We saw a helicopter was shot down and it was set on fire,” he said.
As dawn approached, Mr. Majab said, a dozen more helicopters converged on the crash site to help with the rescue operation. Mobile-phone communications, meanwhile, were jammed in the area.
Poorly armed insurgents have rarely had success in shooting down U.S. helicopters in Afghanistan.
Until now, the most deadly such attack took place in 2005, when an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade into the open hatch of a Chinook, killing 16 American special operations forces dispatched on a mission to rescue a small SEAL team trapped in an insurgent-held area of Kunar province.
That same year, 17 Spanish soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed in western Afghanistan near Herat. Though the military said at the time that the crash was accidental, witnesses said the helicopter took fire before it hit the ground.
But Saturday’s attack marked the second time in two weeks that insurgents shot down a helicopter in Afghanistan. Two people were injured on July 25 in Kunar when insurgents used a rocket-propelled grenade to bring down another Chinook.
The ability to bring down foreign air power is a potent psychological weapon for the insurgency.
In the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency provided Afghan anti-Soviet forces with deadly Stinger surface-to-air missiles that were widely credited with helping to force the Russians out of Afghanistan.
The U.S. has increasingly relied on special-operations night raids to root out the Taliban, a tactic that has been criticized by President Hamid Karzai’s administration.
U.S.-led forces conduct scores of night raids each month, and military officials say the vast majority end without shots being fired.
In the first six months of this year, night raids killed 30 civilians—a 15% drop from the first six months of 2010, according to the United Nations.