NATO probes Afghanistan helicopter crash

US soldiers seal off a canal running through
Highway 1 on the outskirts of Kandalay village
© AFP Romeo Gacad

AFP

PULI ALAM, Afghanistan (AFP) – NATO says it is investigating Taliban claims that they shot down a helicopter killing a team of 30 American troops, many of whom were special forces, and seven Afghan commandos.

An interpreter also died when the Chinook helicopter plummeted after a firefight with insurgents during an anti-Taliban operation late Friday in Wardak province, southwest of the capital Kabul.

The crash site had been sealed off by Sunday, with reports that fighting was still going on in the area where a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) is thought to have downed the troop-carrying aircraft.

The incident was the biggest single loss of life for foreign forces since a US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban from power in 2001, several weeks after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

“Afghan and foreign troops are still in the area,” provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP on Sunday.

“The area is sealed off and we have reports of sporadic fighting,” he said, noting that phone coverage had been blacked out.

US media reported that the dead included members of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six, the secretive unit behind the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Administration sources interviewed by AFP declined to comment on whether the dead included any Navy SEALs or Team Six members, but said the casualties did not include anyone who took part in the bin Laden raid on May 2.

A witness told AFP the helicopter went down following a raid on a Taliban commander’s home.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Local and Afghan army officials said an insurgent rocket felled the helicopter, which was said to have broken into several parts after being hit.

The NATO-led ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission in the troubled country confirmed an investigation was under way to determine the exact circumstances of the crash.

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“The operation of recovery is ongoing,” it said in a statement Sunday, referring to efforts to reclaim wreckage from the site.

An ISAF spokesman would not comment on what attempts were being made to recover the bodies of those killed.

The previous single biggest death toll for foreign soldiers since military operations in Afghanistan began in 2001 was in 2005, when 16 US troops died when a Taliban rocket hit their Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar.

Chinooks are widely used by coalition forces in Afghanistan for transporting large numbers of troops and supplies around the war zone. Their size and lack of speed makes them especially vulnerable to ground attacks.

US President Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai reaffirmed their commitment to Afghanistan on Sunday in a telephone call, the White House said.

“President Obama received a call today from President Karzai of Afghanistan, who reiterated his condolences for the tragic loss of 30 American service-members,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama “noted the extraordinary service of the Americans who gave their lives, and expressed his condolences for the Afghans who died serving by their side,” it said.

Karzai and Obama then “reaffirmed their commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, which is critical to the security of both our countries.”

There are currently around 140,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, including about 100,000 US troops.

All international combat troops are due to leave by the end of 2014, but intense violence in recent months, including a series of assassinations in the volatile south, has raised questions about the prospects for Afghan forces.

Some foreign troop withdrawals have already begun as part of a transition that has seen local soldiers and police, whose abilities are disputed, take control of key regions this summer.

Meanwhile, two French Foreign Legion soldiers were among four NATO troops killed Sunday in two separate insurgent attacks in Afghanistan, the French presidency said.

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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