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.

None of those killed in the crash are 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.

It was the deadliest single incident for American forces in the decade-long war.

WBZ-TV’s Jim Armstrong talks to a local former Navy SEAL

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.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Doug Cope reports

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 acrew of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because families are still being notified.

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.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (10)
  1. KEVIN says:


  2. rrc says:

    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.

    Yes, they have sacrificed so much and those who are still fighting are sacrificing so much, but does the gov’t do anything … pay the military what they deserve … 100% pension and take it away from the politicians!

    No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women serve in the U.S. Military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their pay. While Politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full pay retirement after serving one term. It just does not make any sense.

    Our country is a mess … spend more than we make, but you can’t take it away from the military or the seniors … but you sure as H… can take it from the politicians!

  3. Ellen says:

    Put a lot of these Washington D.C. politicians in Afghanistan and see how quick our troops are sent home.

    1. Paul says:

      It was reported that not a single congressman or senator has a son or daughter in Afghanistan.

  4. Lieut Dan's Aunt says:

    what a tragic loss. brave men all. i am outraged when i think back to last week when the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff was asked by one of our troops if they would be paid if our government failed all of us and failed to raise the debt ceiling. he didn’t know. more than 20 heroes killed in 1 event. families grieving the death of a son, brother, husband, daddy. we owe them so much more. we must honor those lost and their families in every way.we the people must give a real wake-up call to the pols that they serve at our pleasure. they can’t hold us hostage while honorable men & women serve their country in harm’s way. wake up and stand up america for those who truly deserve our support. my sincerest condolences to those who lost a loved one in this tragedy.

  5. Joe says:

    The ridiculous and overly restrictive rules of engagement that our selfish politicians force our men to follow is the reason this happened. Yes, rules of engagement must be present to, as much as possible, protect the innocent. however, when the enemy knows this and position themselves around civilians this is what happens when said rules go beyond common sense. May God bless these brave men and their family’s.

  6. Tee Kay says:

    I’m so sorry. When will it ever end?

    1. joe says:

      Unfortunately, most likely it won’t. Though some have a problem with the terms “terrorists” and “radical Muslims” the facts are quite clear and leave no room for debate. This groups goal is the ultimate destruction of America and Israel. Within the Muslim religion this group is without a doubt the minority. However, we can’t deny they exist nor their hateful intentions any longer. Though the vast majority of Americans realize this, there is a small yet powerful fraction of our society that refuses to acknowledge their true intentions. The PC crowd feels they are misunderstood and we should negotiate with them. Some even believe we should integrate sharia law into our society as a sign of good will. Unfortunately, these folks have a large media backing and are mostly as insane as the far right who want to kill all Muslims. Until a middle common sense ground is reached this will continue. Or until Israel suffers an attack of historical proportion and is forced to use nuclear weapons. Those who say this won’t happen are naive.

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