22 of the dead are Navy SEALs, the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden.
KABUL – In the single deadliest loss for U.S. troops since the Afghan war began in late 2001, 30 service members died early Saturday when a helicopter carrying them went down while they were reinforcing other troops, officials said, according to CNN. Insurgents are believed to have shot down the CH-47 Chinook, a U.S. military official said. The Taliban claimed militants downed the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Among the 25 U.S. special operations forces killed in Wardak province were 22 Navy SEALS, considered to be the “best of the best.” Seven Afghan troops also died. The majority of the Navy SEALs who died belonged to the same covert unit that conducted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, though they were not the same men, the military official said. The troops died during a “quick reaction” mission to assist military personnel pinned down by insurgents in a fierce firefight, a U.S. military official told CNN. “It’s a big loss” for the SEALs, one of the officials said. “The numbers are high.”
Reflecting on the sobering loss, President Barack Obama said the deaths were “a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan.” NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said 30 U.S. service members in ISAF, one civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos were killed.
The U.S. deaths came as NATO is drawing down and handing over security control to national forces. Some 10,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to depart by year’s end, with the full draw-down expected to take place by the end of 2014. However, no one is talking about withdrawing special operations forces and they are expected to stay on the job.
“We are determined to stay the course, especially in this crucial period when Afghan and international security forces are working closer than ever to make transition a success,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
The Chinook went down as an Afghan and coalition force operation targeted a bomb-making cell leader in Wardak, leading to the detention of numerous insurgents Friday, according to ISAF. It is not clear if the helicopter incident and the raid were connected. Mohammad Hazrat Janan, head of the provincial council, said Tangi village elders reported that insurgents shot at the craft when it was returning from an operation.