The dead in Saturday’s attack included 22 Navy SEALs, most of them members of SEAL Team 6, the counterterrorism unit that carried out the mission to find Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials said. They added that none of the commandos who died Saturday were involved in the cross-border mission that killed the al-Qaeda leader.
In a statement, President Obama expressed his condolences to the families of those who were killed, saying their deaths were a “reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices” made by U.S. troops over the past decade.
He also vowed that U.S. troops would press ahead with the war. “We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied.”
The SEALs killed Saturday were on a nighttime mission to kill or capture two high-level insurgents known for organizing devastating roadside bomb attacks on American convoys, officials said.
The attack on the Chinook helicopter near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan underscored a dilemma for the Obama administration as it seeks to reduce the American presence: Even as U.S. and Afghan forces have weakened the Taliban in its southern heartland, the insurgents have been able to hold on to and expand some of their havens in the east.
U.S. forces flew into the Tangi Valley, in a remote part of Wardak province, about 2 a.m. Saturday, following a months-long intelligence-gathering effort, said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive military operations. U.S. troops had recently turned over the sole combat outpost in the valley to Afghans.
Early accounts of the crash suggested that the helicopter was near the target location when an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the Chinook and it went down, killing all of the passengers.
The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack and the deaths of the 30 U.S. service members and eight Afghans on board. In addition to the 22 SEALs, there were eight U.S. troops from the Army and the Air Force.
U.S. officials confirmed that there was enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash, but cautioned that it could take weeks before investigators would be able to say definitively what brought the helicopter down.