- Chopper brought down in rocket attack was on its way to aid other elite troops fighting militants
- Names of three American victims released
- Twenty-two of the dead soldiers were from elite Seal Team Six
- At 30 deaths in total, it’s highest number of U.S. casualties in one incident
- Seven Afghan soldiers die in the crash
- President Obama mourns this ‘extraordinary sacrifice’
- Afghan president sends condolences to Obama
As the U.S. comes to grips with the deadliest loss of American lives since the war in Afghanistan began, more has been revealed about the helicopter crash that claimed 38 lives.The Chinook chopper was on a mission to back up U.S. Army Rangers, who had come under fire by Afghan insurgents in the area, military official said.
The team had completed their mission of subduing the attackers, and were departing in the helicopter when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The other official said that the Rangers, special operations forces who work regularly with the SEALs, secured the crash site afterward. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the event while the investigation remains ongoing.
Thirty-eight people – including 30 American Special Forces troops and seven Afghan soldiers – were killed when the blast brought down the helicopter early Saturday.
Of the 30, 22 Navy SEALs from the elite ‘Team Six’ unit that killed Osama bin Laden lost their lives.
On Sunday, three names were revealed as victims of the devastating crash.
Aaron Carson Vaughn, of Tennessee, was a Navy SEAL and the first special ops soldier to be identified in the devastating crash.
Vaughn, 30, was remembered by his grandmother Geneva Carson Vaughn as a brave warrior and gentle man.
A family from the Philadelphia area was devastated to learn their son, Navy SEAL Michael Strange, was also one of the victims.
His father, Charles Strange told CBS Philly: ‘He was intense, he was funny, he had that dry humour, like Seinfeld’
Another SEAL, Jon Tumilson, of Rockford, Iowa, perished in the crash, his father said.
Meanwhile, as Nato begins an operation to recover the remains of the large helicopter, an Afghan official says heavy fighting has erupted in the area of the crash.
Wardak provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said Sunday that a joint operation was taking place in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Sayd Abad district.
He said there were reports of Taliban casualties overnight, but had no additional information.
It was reported last night that the Seals who died in the helicopter crash were not among the 23 who killed Bin Laden.
According to intelligence officials, the 23 SEALs who killed Bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan in May had recently returned to Afghanistan from their base in North Carolina.
However, they were members of the same 120-strong SEAL Team Six and would have trained alongside and been close friends with those who carried out the Bin Laden raid.
It was not clear if the Taliban had deliberately targeted the helicopter as an act of revenge.
But its shooting down is bound to be greeted in many parts of the Arab world as terrible vengeance for the death of the Al Qaeda leader.
Reports suggested that seven members of the Afghan National Army, one dog handler, an interpreter and an unknown number of crew were also on board the downed helicopter. Friday night’s attack is the deadliest single incident since the Afghan war began in 2001.
It was also the highest one-day death toll for US Navy Special Warfare personnel since the Second World War. In 2005, 16 Navy Seals and US Army special forces troops died when their helicopter was shot down as they tried to rescue four comrades under attack from the Taliban.
‘A Nato helicopter crashed last night in Wardak province,’ Karzai said in the statement, adding that 31 American special operations troops were killed.
‘President Karzai expressed his deep condolences because of this incident and expressed his sympathy to Barack Obama.’
Mr Obama, who learned of the incident at Camp David, issued a statement saying his thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who perished.
‘Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan,’ the president said.
‘We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied.’
Mr Obama said he also mourned the loss of seven Afghans ‘who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country.’
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he is deeply saddened by the loss, and vowed that the U.S. will stay the course to complete the mission to make the world a safer place.
The Chinook involved in Friday’s attack – a US twin-engined helicopter mainly used to transport troops – was hit by a shoulder-held grenade as it returned from a night raid on a militant gathering in the Tangi Valley in Wardak province, west of Kabul.
The Tangi Valley, dubbed ‘Death Valley’, is known for being one of the most hostile corridors in Afghanistan. The volatile Wardak province is an infamous insurgent stronghold.
The Special Forces unit in the Bin Laden operation, Seal Team Six – known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group – has around 300 members, of whom 120 are commandos. The rest are communications and specialist support troops.
US sources said the troops were being flown by a crew of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter with rocket fire and that wreckage was strewn at the scene.
The tragedy comes as America draws down its presence in Afghanistan and attempts to hand over responsibility for security to Afghan forces. Seven Afghan soldiers were also killed in the crash.
‘Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan,’ he said in a statement, adding that his thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who perished.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: ‘Their courage was exemplary, as was their determination to make this a safer world for their countries and for their fellow citizens. We will stay the course to complete that mission, for which they and all who have served and lost their lives in Afghanistan have made the ultimate sacrifice. They and their families are in my thoughts, in my prayers and in my heart.’
Aircraft crashes are relatively frequent in Afghanistan, where insecurity and difficult terrain make air travel essential for coalition forces transporting troops and equipment.
There have been at least 17 coalition and Afghan aircraft crashes in Afghanistan this year.
In June 2005, 16 American troops were killed when a U.S. helicopter crashed in eastern Kunar province after apparently being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Most of the crashes are 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, injuring two crewmembers.
Meanwhile, Nato troops attacked a house and inadvertently killed eight members of a family, including women and children, in the southern Helmand province, an Afghan government official said Saturday.
Nato said Taliban fighters fired rocket propelled grenades and small arms at coalition troops during a patrol Friday in the Nad Ali district.
The troops fired back, and as the fight escalated an aistrike was called in against the Taliban position, said Brockhoff, the NATO spokesman.
He said 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.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said: ‘The fresh reports from the site tells us that there are still Americans doing search operations for the bodies and pieces of the helicopter are on the ground.’
Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoy, police chief of Wardak, said the operation began around 1 a.m. Saturday as Nato and Afghan forces attacked a Taliban compound in Jaw-e-mekh Zareen village in the Tangi Valley.
The firefight lasted at least two hours, the general said.
‘It was at the end of the operation that one of the Nato helicopters crashed,’ he said.
‘We don’t know yet the cause of the crash, and we don’t know how many Nato soldiers were on board.’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 non-combatants.
Also in the south, Nato said two coalition service member were killed, one on Friday and another on Saturday. The international alliance did not release further details.
The deaths bring to 334 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan, and 11 this month.
WHO ARE THE U.S. NAVY SEALS?
U.S. Navy’s Sea, Earth and Land Teams, (Seals) are the U.S. Navy’s principal special operations force and a part of the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) as well as the maritime component of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
The name is derived from their capacity to operate at sea, on Earth, and on land, but in the war on terror they have been almost exclusively for land-based operations, such as the storming of Osama bin Laden’s compound.
The Seals were born in the Second World War when the Navy recognized the need for soldiers to take control of landing beaches, note obstacles and defences, and ultimately guide the landing forces in.
The unit became known as officially as the Naval Combat Demolition Unit.
They became Seals in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy, aware of the situations in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for unconventional warfare and special operations as a measure against guerrilla warfare.
Units were established to operate from sea, Earth or land.
The first joint Seals and CIA operations, which are currently being carried in the war on terror, were executed in the Vietnam War.
Since then the Seals teams have operated in Grenada, the Persian Gulf and Panama.