The US Navy Seals and other troops whose helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan had rushed to the mountainous area to help a US army ranger unit that was under fire from insurgents, two US officials said Sunday.
The rescue team had completed the mission, subduing the attackers who had the rangers pinned down, and were departing in their Chinook helicopter when the aircraft was apparently hit, an official said.
Thirty Americans and eight Afghans were killed in the crash, making it the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan. The rangers, special operations forces who work regularly with the Seals, afterwards secured the crash site in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak province, about 60 miles (97km) southwest of Kabul, an official said.
On Sunday, Nato began an operation to recover the remains of the large transport helicopter, while Afghan and American forces battled insurgents in the region of the crash. The clashes Sunday did not appear to involve the troops around the crash site.
“There have been a small number of limited engagements in the same district as yesterday’s helicopter crash, however those clashes have not been in the direct vicinity of the crash site,” NATO said in a statement. “As of now, we have no reporting to indicate any coalition casualties resulting from these engagements.”
Shahidullah Shahid, the Wardak provincial spokesman, confirmed the helicopter recovery mission was under way and said there were reports of Taliban casualties overnight.
“There is a joint operation going on by Afghan and Nato forces. A clearing operation is ongoing in the district and there are reports of casualties among insurgents,” Shahid said. “The area is still surrounded by American forces.”
Elsewhere in Afghanistan, Nato said insurgents killed four alliance service members in two separate attacks in the east and the south. It did not provide their nationalities or any other details.
The deaths bring to 369 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan and 46 this month.
The downing of the helicopter Saturday was heavy setback for the US-led coalition as it begins to draw down thousands of combat troops fighting what has become an increasingly costly and unpopular war. Of the 30 Americans killed, there were 22 Navy Seals, three Air Force combat controllers and a dog handler, his dog and four crew members, a current US official and a former official said on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.
Most of the Seals belonged to the same elite unit that killed Osama bin Laden, although they were not the same people who participated in the May raid into Pakistan that killed the al-Qaida leader. The downing was a stinging blow to the lauded, tight-knit Seal Team 6, months after its crowning achievement.