published Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Crash deaths worst 1-day toll for U.S. in 10 years

By McClatchy Newspapers
US soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, secure the area after exiting a Chinook helicopter in Apghanistan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
US soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, secure the area after exiting a Chinook helicopter in Apghanistan. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
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KABUL, Afghanistan — The 30 U.S. troops killed when their Chinook helicopter was shot down Saturday in western Afghanistan — many of them Navy SEALs — were fighting a war rarely talked about.

They were not battling Afghanistan’s ingrained corruption or building new roads or crafting nascent local governments. They were part of a group of elite troops that operate stealthily in the night and go after the U.S.’ most wanted targets of the war.

It was the worst single-day toll for American forces in Afghanistan since U.S. troops entered that country nearly 10 years ago, and one of the largest tolls in a single incident of either the Afghan war or the fighting in Iraq. Seven Afghan troops also died in the crash. An interpreter also was killed; in all 38 people and a SEAL dog died in the crash.

The Associated Press reported that some of the SEALs were from SEAL Team 6, the same unit that provided the troops for the May 2 raid that killed al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden, but that could not be verified independently. The Pentagon released no information on the dead as officials worked through notifying 30 families of their losses.

Shot down

U.S. officials in Afghanistan provided no details, but a senior Pentagon official in Washington confirmed that the helicopter had been shot down, though he said he could not provide details.

Every night, scores of helicopters like the blasted Chinook leave bases amid Taliban strongholds in remote areas, chasing local Taliban or terrorist leaders. Their activities rarely get reported, even when they are successful, with the notable exception of the May killing of bin Laden.

Instead, the discussion about the war focuses on whether such captures and kills by SEALs lead Afghans to reject the insurgents gripping their communities and instead to embrace a democratic system that is less likely to house insurgents.

Afghans have come to expect such stealthy operations.

A villager in the area where the helicopter went down told McClatchy he heard rocket fire. He said he later saw the helicopter burning in an orchard about a half-mile from his home.

“Smoke was rising from the helicopter,” Mansour Majab said.

Frequent raids

Majab told McClatchy that night raids by U.S.-led forces happen frequently.

“Every night the helicopters are flying over our house,” he said by phone. He said that on Thursday U.S. troops conducting a night raid in another village killed three Taliban fighters.

He said Taliban forces fired a rocket at the helicopter that later went down.

“I was in the house and taking some food for the guests who were in our house. I heard the sound of a rocket firing,” Majab said. “Later we saw a helicopter downed in an apple and apricot orchard about a kilometer away. There is a river between our house and the place where the helicopter was downed. Smoke was rising from the helicopter till morning.”

Majab said that “most people are awake during night because of night raids” and that the region is dominated by the Taliban. “From each house at least one person is with the Taliban,” he said.

In a conflict defined by U.S. troops who spend as much time nation-building as destroying the enemy, those killed Saturday were among the few forces that focus strictly on capturing and killing an enemy.

Years to train

That so many of the military’s most elite forces were killed will have a marked impact on special operations in Afghanistan. It takes years to train a Navy SEAL unit, and those SEALs killed on the Chinook will reverberate across the force.

Indeed, in a military that has been fighting this war for a decade, the news was met with shock at military installations across the world. At U.S. Special Operations Command, for example, where officials plan to welcome a new commander, the ceremony is being revamped to a more intimate tone in light of Saturday’s losses.

The crash renewed questions about U.S. claims that the security in Afghanistan is improving gradually, in part, because the Taliban is allegedly weaker.

The Taliban claimed credit for the attack in a statement.

“Last night at 11 p.m. in the Joye Zarin area of Tangi Saybabad district, the invader forces conducted a night raid and faced hard resistance from the Islamic Emirate fighters,” according to the statement, attributed to Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, and posted on the group’s website.

Questions raised

The crash raised questions about administration claims that the United States can leave by the end of 2014 without fears of Taliban retaking control of the country.

Often the U.S. military has noted that the Taliban is on the run from areas in the south and east they once firmly controlled because of an aggressive U.S. campaign in Taliban strongholds over the last year. But a string of successful assassinations and high-profile attacks has some asking whether losing such ground has in fact made the Taliban weaker.

Since April, the Taliban has claimed to have assassinated Kandahar’s police chief and mayor and Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s brother and power governor of Kandahar. In addition, the Taliban claimed last month to have killed a top presidential aide.

In June, insurgents attacked the seemingly secure Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, killing 18 and rattling residents in Kabul about their security.

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rolando said...

Yet another kill in ObamasWar.

Why is he keeping our troops in unnecessary wars -- four of them, now? Does he want them far from home and in harm's war for some perverse political reason?

August 7, 2011 at 6:51 a.m.
LibDem said...

President Obama was quite young when he started this war. It was perhaps a youthful indiscretion.

Nevertheless, this is a great loss for us.

August 7, 2011 at 10 a.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

roland // LibDem. You both must have short-circuit memory loss. President Obama didn't start the war in Afghanistan. Bush did. Both Afghanistan and Iraqi wars were began during the Bush administration. If you two think fighting wars are costly on several fronts, try stopping one.

__All losses of life are great a loss*. No matter which side you're cheering for. The greatest losses of lives during war are and always will be the innocent civilian casualties caught in the middle. :-(

August 7, 2011 at 11:12 a.m.
rolando said...

Indeed, it is a very great loss. For a number of reasons, not all having to do with our loss of life. Our enemies have lost their proper respect and outright fear of us...that loss is all around us.

However, "owning" a war has nothing to do with starting it.

All it takes is assuming the previous "owner's" commitment to the effort and adding either materiel or manpower [other than support for withdrawal]. Obama has shown none of the exceptions and lots of the additions.

So Bush's War in Afghanistan has become Obama's War.

And in today's wars it is difficult if not downright impossible to separate the "innocent" from the not-so-innocent -- using children as suicide bombers, for instance. Dressing in local civilian clothes while fighting is another. The inability to quickly identify the enemy inevitably leads to collateral damage in the civilian populace. It is their leaders' choice to allow it.

It is either that or die yourself. Personally, given the choice, it won't be my country that suffers.

August 7, 2011 at 1:48 p.m.
LibDem said...

"However, "owning" a war has nothing to do with starting it."

I can't disagree with that though I'll argue that disentangling is more difficult than initiating. There has to be political will in both the White House and the Congress.

The concept of innocent civilians is media driven, I think. The person who provides cover is as much a combatant as the gunman.

August 7, 2011 at 2:18 p.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

So Bush's War in Afghanistan has become Obama's War.

Is that not akin to blaming the good Samaritin who comes along and attempts to put out the house fire the arsonist started?

August 7, 2011 at 2:59 p.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

The concept of innocent civilians is media driven, I think

So you believe the civilian death toll as say, Hiroshima, was media driven? Interesting. It is also naive to believe that all civilian deaths are only those who provided cover for the enemy. Innocent civilian death tolls, or collateral damage as they're often referred, are the ultimate tragedies of all wars.

August 7, 2011 at 3:04 p.m.
Johnnyhurst said...

God bless all of our service men and women around the world. Stay near the loved ones who have lost family and friends in our conflicts Lord.

August 7, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.
Haiku said...

God bless ALL, even the opposing sides, caught up in wars around the world. And a special blessing for the innocent and certainly the tiniest victims of war. The children.

August 7, 2011 at 8:28 p.m.
rolando said...

"...disentangling is more difficult than initiating."

Absolutely true...especially when you must fight your way clear.

August 8, 2011 at 1:37 a.m.
rolando said...

amnesti said, "So you believe the civilian death toll as say, Hiroshima, was media driven?"

Since they are still counting as radiation victims those who die today that lived through the bombing 66 years ago, amnesti, I would say, Yes, it is media driven. No one I know lives 66 years with radiation poisoning.

Besides, Hiroshima was a military target...plus that T-bridge to aim at.

And you are wrong; the ultimate tragedy in war is to lose...then everyone dies, one way or another, a little at a time or all at once.

August 8, 2011 at 1:48 a.m.
ceeweed said...

This is not Obama's War or Bush's War, it is America's War and Americans don't care. It seems only those families that have a direct connection to this mess ever think about this war. I support our Military, I do not support this war or the propaganda we are being fed concerning our need to stay in this costly quagmire...These tribes and their Warlord leaders hate each other about as much as they hate us. War is good for the Military Industrial Complex and the tens of thousands of U.S. contractors who are pocketing billions of U.S. dollars with no incentive to do the work they are hired to do. All the while, the government of Afghanistan is ferrying billions of U.S. dollars out of the country...Americans should be outraged but we are not.

August 8, 2011 at 6:40 a.m.
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