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|The crash represents the biggest death toll in a
single incident for international forces in Afghanistan
© AFP/File Patrick Baz
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Saturday vowed to “stay the course” in Afghanistan after 31 US soldiers were killed there when, according to local officials, the Taliban shot down their helicopter.
The pledge from US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — and a salute from President Barack Obama — came after the US troops and seven Afghan soldiers were killed during an anti-Taliban operation late Friday southwest of Kabul.
The strike was by far the worst to hit foreign troops since American and other international forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
“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.”
Afghan officials said a rocket fired by Taliban insurgents struck a Chinook helicopter carrying the US and Afghan forces in Wardak province, southwest of the Afghan capital.
“The US chopper that crashed last night was shot down by the Taliban as it was taking off,” said provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. “A rocket fired by the insurgents hit it and completely destroyed it.”
The death toll was given in a statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office and was not immediately confirmed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The statements by Obama and Panetta did not mention the number of fatalities.
Twenty-five of the dead were US Navy SEALs, US television network ABC News reported. The Pentagon declined to comment on the cause of the crash but said an investigation into the cause had been launched.
Obama said Saturday that the deaths of the US soldiers were “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.”
“We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.
“We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country.”
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license