38 killed in Afghan chopper crash, 22 from SEAL Team 6
Updated: August 7, 2011 - 07:39 am
The deaths bring to 365 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan and 42 this month.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that the helicopter was involved in an assault on a house where insurgent fighters were gathering. During the battle, the fighters shot down the helicopter with a rocket, he said.
The casualties are believed to be largest loss of life in the history of SEAL Team Six, officially called the Navy Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. The team is considered the best of the best among the already elite SEALs, which numbers 3,000 personnel.
The death toll surpasses the previous 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.
Afghanistan has more U.S. special operations troops, about 10,000, than any other theater of war. The forces, often joined by Afghan troops, carry out as many as a dozen raids a night and have become one of the most effective weapons in the coalition's arsenal, also conducting surveillance and infiltration.
From April to July this year, special operations raids captured 2,941 insurgents and killed 834, twice as many as those killed or captured in the same three-month period of 2010, according to NATO.
The coalition plans to increase its reliance on special operations missions as it reduces the overall number of combat troops.
Night raids have drawn criticism from human rights activists and infuriated Karzai, who says they anger and alienate the Afghan population. But NATO commanders have said the raids are safer for civilians than relatively imprecise airstrikes.
The loss of so many SEALs at once will have a temporary impact on the tempo of missions they can carry out, but with an ongoing drawdown of special operations forces from Iraq, there will be more in reserve for Afghan missions.
The site of the crash, Tangi, is a particularly dangerous area, the site where many of the attacks that take place in the province are planned, said Wardak's Deputy Gov. Ali Ahmad Khashai. "Even with all of the operations conducted there, the opposition is still active."
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