The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan said Wednesday that his forces have killed the insurgents responsible for downing a Chinook helicopter packed with 30 Navy SEALs and other American troops, though the original target of their mission got away.
Marine Gen. John R. Allen, who took over command of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan last month, told reporters at the Pentagon that a group of “less than 10” Taliban fighters believed responsible for shooting down the Chinook were killed in airstrikes launched by F-16 fighter planes.
A separate statement released by U.S. and NATO officials in Kabul said the airstrikes occurred Tuesday in Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan, the same province where the Chinook crashed early Saturday, killing all of the U.S. troops aboard, as well as eight Afghan soldiers who were with them.
The statement said that the airstrikes killed a Taliban leader known as Mullah Mohibullah, who allegedly led a cell of a dozen fighters, including potential suicide bombers. Also killed in the airstrike was the unidentified insurgent who is believed to have fired a rocket-propelled grenade that struck the Chinook, Allen said.
Allen said U.S. Special Operations forces were searching for another Taliban leader in Wardak province early Saturday when the SEALs and other forces aboard the Chinook were called in as reinforcements, apparently because some of the targets of the hunt were on the verge of escape. That Taliban leader, whom Allen declined to name, got away and still has not been tracked down.
In a news briefing with Pentagon reporters, conducted by video link from Kabul, Allen said the downing of the Chinook – the largest single loss of life for U.S. forces since the war in Afghanistan began a decade ago – was under investigation. He repeatedly declined to answer questions about the nature of the operation or the circumstances under which the highly trained SEALs were called in as reinforcements.