Whatever else could be said about the Taliban, they’re the front line troops against the Empire. Hat tip to Jim Duncan.
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — A day after the worst single-incident loss of American lives in the Afghan war, four more NATO soldiers were killed in separate insurgent attacks.
Two service members were killed in the country’s volatile east, while another two were killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, NATO reported.
Meanwhile, international recovery efforts continued as crews combed through the wreckage of a downed CH-47 Chinook in eastern Afghanistan, the site where 30 U.S. troops lost their lives.
“They’re just trying recover everything from the crash at this point,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The service members died early Saturday when their helicopter crashed during an operation against Taliban insurgents, officials said.
Among the 25 U.S. special operations forces killed in Wardak province — who died while reinforcing other troops in the area — were 22 Navy SEALS, considered to be among America’s most elite warriors.
The majority of the slain Navy SEALs belonged to the same covert unit that conducted the May raid that killed Osama bin Laden, though they were not the same men, a U.S. military official said.
In all, 38 people died in the crash, including one civilian translator and seven Afghan commandos, NATO reported.
The Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack, claiming to have downed the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade.
Saturday’s NATO crash killed more than two dozen U.S. troops, making it the war’s deadliest single incident for Americans, according to a CNN count. Here are previous large-scale losses.
- April 6, 2005 — 15 soldiers, 3 civilian contractors killed in crash of helicopter traveling in severe weather.
- June 27, 2005 — 8 soldiers, 8 sailors killed when MH-47 helicopter downed by rocket-propelled grenade.
- May 6, 2006 — 10 soldiers killed in helicopter crash.
- Oct. 26, 2009 — 3 DEA agents, 7 troops killed as they returned from raid.
- Sept. 2, 2006 — 14 troops killed in NATO plane crash believed to be due to technical problem.
- Aug. 18, 2008 — 10 soldiers killed in insurgent attack on patrol.
- Aug. 16, 2005 — 17 troops die in helicopter crash. Accident most likely cause, but attack not ruled out.
Provincial council head Mohammad Hazrat Janan also said insurgents used a rocket-propelled grenade in the attack, though the actual type of weapon is still unclear.
While military officials in Afghanistan have not confirmed that an attack brought down the helicopter, they have acknowledged it was operating in an area rife with insurgent activity.
Afghan officials say the craft crashed in Wardak’s Tangi Valley, a corridor located roughly 60 miles southwest of the Afghan capital and situated amid mountainous and rocky terrain.
Tangi village elders reported that insurgents shot at the craft when it was returning from an operation that left eight insurgents dead, according to Janan.
NATO declined to comment on the details of the operation or the circumstances of the crash.
The specifics of the incident were first made public by way of a written statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“It was amazing to me that the first details came from the presidential palace,” said Baktash Siawash, a parliament member from Kabul. “At the same time, we didn’t hear anything from NATO.”
Siawash said Karzai’s swift release of the crash details amounted to helping the Taliban quickly claim responsibility for the incident.
The Afghan president has come under increasingly criticism by anti-Taliban lawmakers over his willingness to negotiate with insurgent leadership, but has traditionally said that he is endeavoring to bring an end the near decade-long conflict.
A presidential spokesman dismissed Siawash’s allegations as “nonsense,” saying Karzai’s initial statement on the crash was meant to express condolences over the loss of American life.
Meanwhile, Karzai called a security meeting of his top advisors Sunday to discuss the incident, according to a statement from his office.
He is scheduled to speak with U.S. President Barack Obama, the statement said. It is not clear when that conversation is scheduled to take place.
Reflecting on the sobering loss, President Obama said the deaths were “a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan.”
Among those killed was Aaron Carson Vaughn, 30, his grandmother told CNN Saturday night. She called him a brave warrior and gentle man.
Geneva Carson Vaughn of Union City, Tennessee, said Aaron lived with his wife and two small children in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The SEAL told her in June not to worry about his well-being.
“He said ‘I’m not afraid. Because I know where I am going if something happens to me.’,” she said.
“He is with the Lord now,” Vaughn added. “I will see him again someday.”
The U.S. deaths come as NATO is drawing down and handing over security control to national forces. Some 10,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to depart by year’s end, with the full draw-down expected to take place by the end of 2014.
Newly minted U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, pledged no permanent bases inside the war-torn country, but has suggested that American military commitments to Afghanistan could extend beyond the draw-down date.
The crash dealt a heavy blow to U.S. special forces, a select group that requires years of training and brings operational experience that’s not easily replaced.
Their deaths have also raised concerns among Kabul lawmakers over the perceived strength of the insurgency.
“This shows the Taliban are now more mobilized than before,” said Khalid Pashton, a parliament member from Kandahar province, the traditional heartland of the Taliban. “Now there is an organized play in Afghanistan that seems (to suggest) that U.S. forces will soon leave.”
Meanwhile, officials are being especially tight-lipped because recovery operations — which began immediately following the crash — are still under way and body identifications and family notifications are just beginning, a U.S. military official said.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said ISAF “is still assessing the circumstances that resulted in these deaths.”
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said it’s too early to say if the Taliban caused the crash. He called for an investigation.
“Information is still coming in about this incident. I think it’s important that we allow investigators to do their work before jumping to too many conclusions,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It’s also important that we respect the process of notifying family members, no matter how long that takes.”
There are 150,000 ISAF forces in Afghanistan, including just under 100,000 from the United States — the largest NATO presence in the region since the U.S.-led war began in 2001.
David Ariosto reported from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Barbara Starr and Steve Brusk reported from Washington.