38 U.S., Afghan Military Personnel Lost in a Helicopter Crash in Eastern Afghanistan


38 U.S and Afghan military personnel were killed last night (August 6, 2011) when a U.S. Army A Special Operations CH-47 Chinook was downed in Eastern Afghanistan. Most of the U.S. casualties are believed to be Navy SEALs. According to the pentagon, Five of the U.S. casualties were aircrew members, and 25 were members of U.S. Special Operations Command. The tragedy is the worst combat loss event related to aviation operations, recorded in the Afghan war since 2001. The incident took place in the eastern province of Wardak, considered as a Taliban stronghold. According to Afghan sources quoted by CNN, the Taliban claimed to have downed the helicopter by RPG. Afghan villagers quoted by CNN said the insurgents shot at the craft when it was flying back from an operation.

This tragic loss took place only one week after the Taliban succeeded to shoot down another U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook, a similar helicopter delivering supplies to a remote forward operating base in Eastern Afghanistan. However, the incident last week ended without fatalities. Last week the cause was also attributed to Taliban RPG fire.

According to a senior Afghan government official speaking with AFP on condition of anonymity, Taliban executed a planned deception campaign, through informants that tipped U.S. intelligence sources about a high level Taliban meeting held in a remote village at Sayd Abad district of Wardak province in Eastern Afghanistan. He said Taliban commander Qari Tahir exploited four pakistanis to inform the Americans about the meeting. According to the Afghan official, the Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take, as approach paths to the location were limited. “That’s the only route, so they took position on the either side of the valley on mountains and as the helicopter approached, they attacked it with rockets and other modern weapons. It was brought down by multiple shots.” the Afghan source told AFP.

Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan warned against jumping to conclusions about the incident. Lapan caution reporters against reading too much into a single combat incident. As tragic as the loss of life is, he said, it is not a trend, but an anomaly.

“This one single incident does not represent any watershed or trend,” Lapan said. “As we have said continuously, the Taliban were going to come back hard. They weren’t going to take the losses that they have suffered lightly. They were going to try to inflict casualties not only on us, but the Afghans, and those are the things we are seeing.”

The Taliban are still on the run, and the coalition and its Afghan partners have reversed the momentum of the insurgent group, the colonel said, adding that special operations forces will continue to drive on.

“In the immediate aftermath, they press on with the mission,” the colonel said. “It is an unfortunate fact of the business we’re in that we take casualties, and our folks are well-trained to recognize that they can’t let the loss of their comrades deter them from the mission, especially since this is a very dangerous undertaking, and you can’t afford to lose focus.”