U.S. forces have recovered the bodies of 16 troops killed in the crash of a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan, the Pentagon reported yesterday. But defense officials said other U.S. troops who had been fighting in the area -- and who had summoned the reinforcements aboard the helicopter -- were not yet all accounted for.
"At this point, we have recovered all 16 bodies of those servicemen who were onboard the MH-47 helicopter that crashed on Tuesday," Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.
A 17th person had been listed on the aircraft's manifest but had never boarded the flight, another military officer said yesterday.
The MH-47 Chinook helicopter, a Special Operations variant of the CH-47 twin-rotor aircraft, crashed in rugged, heavily wooded terrain in Kunar province. Conway confirmed that the aircraft appeared to have been hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, based in part on the report of another helicopter that had been accompanying it. He called the strike "a pretty lucky shot," rejecting the idea that it indicated "an increased level of sophistication" by enemy fighters.
Pieces of the helicopter were strewn widely across the face of a mountain, other officials said. The troops on board apparently died in the crash, not afterward in an engagement with enemy ground forces, Conway said.
Of the 16 killed, eight belonged to a Navy SEAL team and eight were Army air crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, officials said. Names of the dead were not released pending positive identification and notification of relatives, which Conway said is "expected to be completed soon."
Details of the helicopter's mission have not been released. Military officials have said it was ferrying reinforcements to troops who had come under fire. But those troops have never been identified, and Conway indicated yesterday that the whereabouts of at least some of them remained unknown. Even with the recovery of the bodies, he said, the U.S. military lacked "full accountability" for the operation.