In the deadliest day for U.S. forces in the nearly decadelong war in Afghanistan, insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter Saturday, killing 30 Americans — including Navy SEAL commandos from the broader unit that killed Osama bin Laden — and eight Afghans, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
KABUL, Afghanistan — In the deadliest day for U.S. forces in the nearly 10-year war in Afghanistan, insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter Saturday, killing 30 Americans — including Navy SEAL commandos from the broader unit that killed Osama bin Laden — and seven Afghan commandos, U.S. and Afghan officials said.
The helicopter, on a night-raid mission in the Tangi Valley of Wardak province, west of Kabul, was most likely brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade, one coalition official said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and they could hardly have found a more valuable target: U.S. officials said 22 of the dead were Navy SEAL commandos from two different special teams, including SEAL Team 6.
Other commandos from that team conducted the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed bin Laden in May.
Most Read Nation & World Stories
- A cure for Type 1 diabetes? For one man, it seems to have worked
- The best time to get a COVID booster shot: What the science tells us
- International travelers stranded, angry in omicron's wake: 'The first thing I did was cry'
- Firefighters launch tense rescue after pet tortoise traps pet dog in underground burrow
- Celebrated snowboarder Marko Grilc, 38, dies in accident at resort
The officials said that those who were killed Saturday were not involved in the Pakistan mission.
That so many of the military’s most elite forces could be killed shook troops around the world.
It takes years to train a Navy SEAL unit and it will have reverberations across the force.
Saturday’s deaths bring to 365 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan and 42 this month.
The attack came during a surge of violence that has accompanied the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops, and it showed how entrenched the insurgency remains even far from its main strongholds in southern Afghanistan and along the Afghan-Pakistan border in the east. U.S. soldiers recently had turned over the sole combat outpost in the Tangi Valley to Afghans.
When the 4th Brigade Combat Team handed over its only combat outpost in the Tangi Valley to Afghan security forces in April, the U.S. commander for the area said that as troops began to withdraw, he wanted to focus his forces on troubled areas that had larger populations.
But he pledged coalition forces would continue to carry out raids there to stem insurgent activity.
“As we lose U.S. personnel, we have to concentrate on the greater populations,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Rickard, commander of 10th Mountain Division’s Task Force Warrior, which has responsibility for the area that includes Tangi. “We are going to continue to hunt insurgents in Tangi and prevent them from having a safe haven.”
Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoy, the police chief of Wardak, said the helicopter attack occurred after an assault on a Taliban compound in the Tangi Joy Zarin area in the Tangi Valley. The fighting lasted at least two hours, the general said.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, confirmed insurgents had been gathering at the compound, adding that eight had been killed in the fighting.
President Obama offered his condolences to the families of the Americans and Afghans who died in the attack. “Their death is a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice made by the men and women of our military and their families,” Obama said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai also offered his condolences to the victims’ families.
Gen. John Allen, the commander of the international military mission in Afghanistan, said: “All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
The Tangi Valley runs along the border between Wardak and the neighboring Logar province, where security has worsened over the past two years, bringing the insurgency closer to the capital, Kabul.
It is one of several inaccessible areas that have become havens for insurgents, according to operations and intelligence officers with the 4th Brigade Combat Team.
The mountainous region, with its steeply pitched hillsides and arid shale, traversed by small footpaths and byways, has long been an area that the Taliban have used to move between Logar and Wardak, local government officials said.
Officers at a forward operating base near the valley described Tangi as one of the most troubled areas in Logar and Wardak provinces.
“There’s a lot happening in Tangi, it’s a stronghold for the Taliban,” said Capt. Kirstin Massey, 31, the assistant intelligence officer for Fourth Brigade Combat Team in an interview last week.
The fighters are entirely Afghans and almost all local residents, Massey said.
The redoubts in these areas pose the kind of problems the military faced last year in areas of Kunar province, forcing commanders to weigh the mission’s value given the cost in soldiers’ lives and dollars spent in places where the vast majority of the insurgents are local residents who resent the NATO presence and the Afghan government.
The dilemma is that if NATO military forces do not stay, the areas often quickly slip back under Taliban influence, if not control, and the Afghan National Security Forces do not have the ability yet to rout them.
Within a few days of the transition, the Taliban raised their flag near the outpost, said a NATO military official familiar with the situation. Afghan security forces remained in the area but were no match for the Taliban, the official said.
Local officials in Wardak said that residents of the Tangi Valley disliked the fighting in the area, and that though they had fallen under the Taliban’s sway, the residents were not willing allies.
“They do not like having military in that area — no matter whether they are Taliban or foreigners,” said Hajji Mohammad Hazrat Janan, the chairman of the Wardak provincial council.
“When an operation takes place in their village,” he said, “their sleep gets disrupted by the noise of helicopters and by their military operation. And also they don’t like the Taliban, because when they attack, then they go and seek cover in their village, and they are threatened by the Taliban.”
However, when local residents are hurt by the NATO soldiers, then, he said, they are willing to help the insurgents.
This was the second helicopter to be shot down by insurgents in the past two weeks.
On July 25, a Chinook was shot down in Kunar Province, injuring two people on board. Of 15 crashes or forced landings this year, those two were the only confirmed cases where hostile fire was involved.
Before Saturday, the biggest single-day loss of life for the U.S. military in Afghanistan came on June 28, 2005, in Kunar province when a Chinook helicopter carrying special-operations troops was shot down as it tried to provide reinforcements to forces trapped in heavy fighting.
Sixteen members of a special-operations unit were killed in the crash, and three more were killed in fighting on the ground.
Material from The Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers is included in this report.