UPDATE Sunday, 7:29 a.m.: Initial reports of the death toll were off by one. U.S. officials confirmed that 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed when insurgents shot down a U.S. military helicopter in eastern Afghanistan Saturday. Twenty-two of those killed were Navy SEAL commandos, including members of the elite Seal Team 6 that killed Osama bin Laden in May, reports the Washington Post. None of those killed were actually involved in the Abbottabad raid but they belonged to the same unit. The fact that they were present during the raid “would suggest that the target was a high-ranking insurgent figure,” notes the Associated Press.
ORIGINAL POST: Taliban insurgents shot down a NATO Chinook helicopter that was taking part in an overnight mission in Afghanistan, killing 31 American Special Operations forces and seven Afghans who were aboard, according to a statement issued by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The numbers are still unclear as there was no official confirmation from NATO, but it would amount to “the worst single-day toll for American forces in Afghanistan since U.S. troops entered that country nearly 10 years ago, and one of the largest tolls in a single incident of either the Afghan war or the fighting in Iraq,” reports McClatchy.
The New York Times talks to a “coalition military official” who said that “at least 37 people” had been killed but he could not confirm the information provided by Karzai on their nationalities or units. The Los Angeles Times talks to a “Western military official” who confirmed that the “twin-rotor CH-47 helicopter had apparently been brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade moments after takeoff.” The limited amount of information available hours after the crash could be partly due to the fact that “special forces commanders as a rule are slower than other branches to publicly acknowledge combat casualties,” explains the LAT. The crash would mean that at least 374 foreign troops have been killed so far in 2011, details Reuters.
The Washington Post points out that another coalition helicopter “was forced to make a precautionary landing in another part of Afghanistan.” The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for both attacks and said eight insurgents had been killed. There are conflicting reports of when the incident in Wardak province took place, with the NYT citing a Taliban spokesman saying it was shot down around 11 p.m. Friday, while the Guardian cites a provincial official who says it was around 3 a.m.
Previously, the deadliest day for the American military in Afghanistan was June 28, 2005, when 16 Navy SEALs and Army Special Operations troops were killed when their helicopter was shot down and three more Seals were killed on the ground, notes the Associated Press. McClatchy points out that the last time “the U.S. military suffered such catastrophic losses” was in January 2005, when 30 troops were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq and six others died on the ground across the country.