6th April 17:22
Afghanistan: SEALs' Plight, Chopper Downing Detailed
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[NYTr] Afghanistan: SEALs' Plight, Chopper Downing Detailed
[AP is still quoting sources that claim the Chinook was shot down
by an RPG. See the New York Times story below for a more detailed
account of how the mission went awry, and saying that the chopper
was shot down by a missile, as the Taliban has claimed right along.]
AP via MSNBC - July 6, 2005
SEALs' plight, Afghan copter crash detailed
Encounter with militants led to deadliest day in Afghanistan for U.S. forces
The Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - The last radio contact was an urgent appeal for help.
Night was falling, a rainstorm threatening, and four Navy SEAL commandos
were surrounded by about a dozen militants in rugged, wooded mountains. They
That hurried call set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the
U.S. military?s deadliest blow in Afghanistan, and the greatest loss of life
ever for the elite force of SEALs.
Nine days after the ambush and subsequent downing of a U.S. special forces
helicopter with 16 troops aboard, U.S military officials in Kabul and
Washington are starting to draw a clearer picture of what happened and have
revealed some details.
The four commandos ? one of whom was rescued, two killed and one who still
missing ? were on a reconnaissance mission on June 28 as part of Operation
Red Wing, searching for Taliban-led rebels and al-Qaida fighters in Kunar
province, U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said.
The eastern province has long been a hotbed of militant activity and a haven
for fighters loyal to renegade former Premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is
wanted by the United States. U.S. officials said al-Qaida fighters also were
in the region. Osama bin Laden was not said to be there ? though he is
believed to be somewhere along the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier.
The region?s rugged, wooded mountains are popular with militants because
they are easy to infiltrate from neighboring Pakistan and have plenty of
places to hide.
Attacked by ?enemy terrorists?
The SEAL team ? specially trained ?not only in the art of combat, but also
in medicine and communications? ? were attacked by a ?pretty large force of
enemy terrorists? and radioed for reinforcements, Yonts said at a press
After the radio call for help, eight Navy SEALs and an eight-member crew
from the Army?s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the
Night Stalkers, flew toward the mountains in a special forces MH-47 Chinook
It was dusk as they neared the high-altitude battlefield.
Suddenly, militants hiding in the thick forest fired what is believed to
have been a rocket-propelled grenade at the massive chopper, hitting it, he
said. [NOTE: The New York Times is reporting today -- without saying it
contradicts earlier reports of a "lucky shot" from an RPG -- that the
chopper was downed by a surface-to-air missile, just as the Taliban claimed.
See below-NY Transfer]
Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of
Staff, described the shot as ?pretty lucky.?
Though damaged, the chopper flew on for about a mile before landing badly on
a small ledge on the side of the mountain, then tumbling into a steep
ravine. All 16 onboard are thought to have died in the crash. Militants then
swarmed over the wreckage.
The Chinook, when hit, had been flying alongside other choppers. Their
pilots immediately informed U.S. commanders of the crash, a U.S. official
said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of information
regarding special forces operations.
U.S. warplanes, more helicopters and forces on the ground were dispatched to
the site, but they were hampered by the approaching rainstorm that lashed
the mountains for 24 hours.
No radio contact In the meantime, there was no contact from the four
commandos. No one knew if they had been killed in the firefight, or had
survived and escaped but were unable to radio for help, the official said.
Fears were further raised when a purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif
Hakimi, claimed rebels had captured one of the men. But he gave no proof and
U.S. officials were skeptical.
Hakimi ? who also claimed insurgents shot down the helicopter ? often calls
news organizations to take responsibility for attacks, and the information
frequently proves exaggerated or untrue. His exact tie to the Taliban
leadership is unclear.
U.S. forces finally reached the wreckage of the helicopter last Thursday, 36
hours after it went down.
?We put forces on the ground, we established positions so no more enemy
could enter the region. Little by little we took control of the greater area
so we could reach the crash site and begin recovery operations,? another
military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry O?Hara, told the Associated Press.
U.S. officials initially said 17 people were on the chopper, but later
revised it downward when they realized that one of the service members who
was listed on the flight manifest did not get on the aircraft.
The bodies of the 16 ? ages 21 to 40 ? were recovered and flown to Bagram,
the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, before being transported to Dover, Del.
A breakthrough Then on Saturday, a breakthrough came in the desperate search
for the four commandos. A friendly tribal elder living in the nearby
mountains told authorities he was caring for one of them in his house, Kunar
Gov. Asadullah Wafa said. It wasn?t clear how the commando got there, he
U.S. forces rushed to the site and found the commando, wounded, but in
stable condition. He was flown to Bagram for treatment ? and a debriefing,
giving military commanders the first crucial clues about what happened to
the ill-fated team.
But the good news didn?t last.
On Saturday, a U.S. airstrike in the region killed as many as 17 civilians,
prompting a strong rebuke by the Afghan government. The next day, U.S.
troops in the area spotted the bodies of two of the commandos in a deep
ravine. It took another 24 hours to recover their remains and fly them to
It was the largest loss of Navy SEALs in a single incident since the force
of about 2,400 was formed in 1962.
U.S. commanders refused to give up hope for the fourth missing service
member. About 300 troops and numerous aircraft were still in the area
Wednesday, searching for him and hunting ?a large number? of militants,
?We?re, of course, doing everything we can to find the last of the four
SEALs. And it?s a real priority, and something the president asked to get
briefed on this morning,? National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said
aboard Air Force One.
The U.S. military has remained tightlipped on what the commandos were doing
in the area, or what happened to the men following their urgent calls for
help and the helicopter crash.
© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The New York Times - July 5, 2005
Details of Afghan Battle Emerge Amid Search for Missing Commando
By CARLOTTA GALL
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 5 - The Navy commandos killed in action in the
wooded mountains of eastern Afghanistan last week were fighting a running
battle with a large force of Taliban insurgents at the time, a United States
military spokesman in Kabul said today.
"They were attempting evade and egress to another location," the spokesman,
Col. Jim Yonts, said of the commandos.
The bodies of the two men, members of the Navy Seals, were found and brought
back on Monday, six days after they lost radio contact with their unit, the
military announced officially today. "The two service members were taken to
the U.S. military hospital at Bagram Airfield where they were pronounced
dead," a military statement issued in Kabul said. "Their names are being
withheld until notification of their next of kin."
A third member of the four-man Seals team, who was wounded, was rescued on
Saturday and taken to Bagram, north of Kabul.
Officials said his wounds were not life-threatening and that he had provided
an account of the battle that was raging on the ground as a large MH-47
Chinook helicopter approached with reinforcements, came under fire and
crashed, killing all 16 on board, including several Navy commandos.
The fourth American in the initial Seals team on the ground remains
unaccounted for, and search efforts are continuing. Colonel Yonts said that
officials did not believe that he was in the hands of villagers, as was
suggested by some Afghan officials in the region on Monday.
Heavy fighting has continued over a large area for a week, which has been a
factor in search and rescue missions for the missing commando team, recovery
operations for the victims of the Chinook crash, and efforts to find a
marine who was reported missing after his Humvee slid down an embankment
into a river. A body thought to be that of the drowned marine has been found
and sent to the United States for positive identification, Colonel Yonts
said. The marine's identity was being withheld until it could be confirmed
and his family notified.
American aircraft, including B-52 bombers, A-10 attack jets and Apache
helicopters have been over the battle area continually, weather permitting.
On Friday, one B-52 bombed a compound thought to contain hostile forces, but
the casualties also included civilians, officials acknowledged. Troops have
been sent to investigate and more are being sent in to help assess the
damage, the military said.
"It was the compound of a midlevel anticoalition militia commander," Colonel
Yonts said, adding it was about two miles from the site of the Chinook
crash, suggesting that fighters from the compound might have been involved
in the fighting there.
Local Afghan officials have said that 17 people were killed in the bomb
strike, among them women and children. The American military expressed
regret for the civilian deaths in a statement, but also said that "when
enemy forces move their families into the locations where they conduct
terrorist operations, they put these innocent civilians at risk."
President Hamid Karzai said he was saddened by word of the civilian
casualties and condemned the incident, his chief of staff, Jawed Ludin said
at a news briefing in the capital. "We know terrorists kill people, destroy
mosques and schools, but we should be careful not to cause harm or to kill
people," the president's aides said. "That is not acceptable."
Hampered by poor weather and extremely steep and mountainous terrain, and
moving through hostile territory, American forces were close to gaining a
complete picture of last Tuesday's battle.
The unit of four commandos was investigating reports of sighting of Taliban
fighters last Tuesday when it encountered and engaged a large force of enemy
and, under fire, called for additional support. Reinforcements were sent
that afternoon aboard the Chinook that crashed as it approached the
battlefield, probably brought down by a missile.
A video purportedly showing insurgents in Afghanistan shooting down a
Chinook helicopter surfaced on the Web today, according to the SITE
Institute, for Search for International Terrorist Entities, which tracks
terrorist Web sites. Last week, a spokesman for the Taliban movement, Abdul
Latif Hakimi asserted that Taliban fighters had used a "new weapon" to shoot
down a Chinook in Kunar Province, and had videotaped the incident.
Yet the video made public today appears to announce in Arabic at the
beginning of the clip that the footage shows the downing of a Chinook in
Khost Province on May 13. Two Chinooks have been reported to have crashed in
Afghanistan this year, the one last week in Kunar, and one in a dust storm
south of Kabul in April.
Copyright (c) 2005 The New York Times Company.
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