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Aug 6, 2011 2:34 PM by Chris Welty

31 Americans, 7 Afghans Killed in Helicopter Crash

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - A military helicopter was shot down in
eastern Afghanistan, killing 31 U.S. special operation troops, most
of them from the elite Navy SEALs unit that killed al-Qaida leader
Osama bin Laden, along with seven Afghan commandos. It was the
deadliest single incident for American forces in the decade-long
war.
The Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter with rocket fire
while it was taking part in a raid on a house where insurgents were
gathered in the province of Wardak late Friday. It said wreckage of
the craft was strewn at the scene. A senior U.S. administration
official in Washington said the craft was apparently shot down by
insurgents. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because
the crash is still being investigated.
NATO confirmed the overnight crash took place and that there
"was enemy activity in the area." But it said it was still
investigating the cause and conducting a recovery operation at the
site. It did not release details or casualty figures.
"We are in the process of accessing the facts," said U.S. Air
Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a NATO spokesman.
One current and one former U.S. official said that the dead
included more than 20 Navy SEALs from SEAL Team Six, the unit that
carried out the raid in Pakistan in May that killed bin Laden. They
were being flown by a crew of the 160th Special Operations Aviation
Regiment. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
families are still being notified.
None of those killed in the crash is believed to have been part
of the SEALs mission that killed bin Laden, but they were from the
same unit as the bin Laden team.
President Barack Obama mourned the deaths of the American
troops, saying in a statement that the crash serves as a reminder
of the "extraordinary sacrifices" being made by the U.S. military
and its families. He said he also mourned "the Afghans who died
alongside our troops."
The death toll would surpass the worst single day loss of life
for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan since the war began in
2001 - the June 28, 2005 downing of a military helicopter in
eastern Kunar province. In that incident, 16 Navy SEALs and Army
special operations troops were killed when their craft was shot
down while on a mission to rescue four SEALs under attack by the
Taliban. Three of the SEALs being rescued were also killed and the
fourth wounded. It was the highest one-day death toll for the Navy
Special Warfare personnel since World War II.
With its steep mountain ranges, providing shelter for militants
armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, eastern Afghanistan
is hazardous terrain for military aircraft. Large, slow-moving air
transport carriers like the CH-47 Chinook are particularly
vulnerable, often forced to ease their way through sheer valleys
where insurgents can achieve more level lines of fire from
mountainsides.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday gave the first public
word of the new crash, saying in a statement that "a NATO
helicopter crashed last night in Wardak province" and that 31
American special operations troops were killed. He expressed his
condolences to President Barack Obama.
The helicopter was a twin-rotor Chinook, said an official at
NATO headquarters in Brussels. The official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity, said he was receiving his information from an Afghan
officer in Kabul.
The crash took place in the Sayd Abad district of Wardak
province, said a provincial government spokesman, Shahidullah
Shahid. The volatile region borders the province of Kabul where the
Afghan capital is located and is known for its strong Taliban
presence.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that
Taliban fighters downed the helicopter during a "heavy raid" in
Sayd Abad. He said NATO attacked a house in Sayd Abad where
insurgent fighters were gathering Friday night. During the battle,
the fighters shot down the helicopter, killing 31 Americans and
seven Afghans, he said, adding that eight insurgents were killed in
the fight.
There have been at least 17 coalition and Afghan aircraft
crashes in Afghanistan this year.
Most of the crashes were attributed to pilot errors, weather
conditions or mechanical failures. However, the coalition has
confirmed that at least one CH-47F Chinook helicopter was hit by a
rocket propelled grenade on July 25. Two coalition crew members
were injured in that attack.
Meanwhile, in the southern Helmand province, an Afghan
government official said Saturday that NATO troops attacked a house
and inadvertently killed eight members of a family, including women
and children.
NATO said that Taliban fighters fired rocket propelled grenades
and small arms fire at coalition troops during a patrol Friday in
the Nad Ali district.
"Coalition forces responded with small arms fire and as the
incident continued, an air strike was employed against the
insurgent position," said Brockhoff. He added that NATO sent a
delegation to meet with local leaders and investigate the incident.
Nad Ali district police chief Shadi Khan said civilians died in
the bombardment but that it was unknown how many insurgents were
killed.
Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, is the deadliest province in
Afghanistan for international troops.
NATO has come under harsh criticism in the past for accidentally
killing civilians during operations against suspected insurgents.
However, civilian death tallies by the United Nations show the
insurgency is responsible for most war casualties involving
noncombatants.
In south Afghanistan, NATO said two coalition service member
were killed, one on Friday and another on Saturday. The
international alliance did not release further details.
With the casualties from the helicopter crash, the deaths bring
to 365 the number of coalition troops killed this year in
Afghanistan and 42 this month.

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