In the single deadliest loss for U.S. troops since the Afghan war began in late 2001, 31 American service members died early Saturday when a NATO helicopter carrying them was shot down by Afghan insurgents as it was rushing to aid troops in a firefight, officials said.
According to CNN, the casualties included 25 Navy SEALs, 22 of which belonged to SEAL Team 6, the elite unit that carried out the raid in Pakistan this spring that killed Osama bin Laden.
Although none of the specific individuals on the raid against the Al Qaeda leader were on the helicopter that went down, the casualties are a major blow for the close-knit and secretive unit only months after it carried out the greatest victory in its history.
In addition to the 31 Americans, officials said that there were seven Afghan army soldiers and a canine on the helicopter.
Despite the fact that the Taliban have claimed to have shot the helicopter down, U.S. officials have only identified the attackers as insurgents.
“They wanted to attack our mujahideen who were in a house, but our mujahideen resisted and destroyed a helicopter with a RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) rocket,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Saturday’s deaths bring the total number of coalition troops killed in Afghanistan to 334 this year, according to the Associated Press.
Following the devastating loss, President Obama offered his condolences to the families of the Americans and Afghans who died in the attack.
“Their death is a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifice made by the men and women of our military and their families,” Obama said. We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied.”
Here is a clip covering the story courtesy of ABC News:
Image Source: Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press