Yesterday's news that 30 U.S. troops had died when the Taliban shot down a helicopter, marking the deadliest day for Americans in the war in Afghanistan, was met with mourning across the nation. Furthermore, details emerged that 22 of the troops killed were members of Navy SEAL Team 6, the elite unit that carried out the operation that killed Osama bin Laden (although none of those who died were participants in his death themselves). Considering how few members of the armed forces are Navy SEALs, the loss was called "unbearable."
More reports are being released on the fatal operation. The U.S. Navy Seals and other troops in the helicopter were on a rescue mission, the Associated Press reports, according to two U.S. officials. They were rushed to the mountainous area in eastern Afghanistan to help a U.S. Army ranger unit that was under fire from insurgents. The rescue team had completed the mission, subdued the attackers, and were departing when their helicopter was hit.
The Telegraph reports that a spokesman for the Taliban movement said the craft had been shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) from as close as 150 yards, soon after it took off. "Ambushing" aircrafts as they take off or land is apparently a common tactic of insurgents in parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan. The Telegraph further notes that "RPGs are short-ranged, inaccurate weapons for hitting aircraft and while Taliban fighters regularly fire them at helicopters, it is rare to bring them down." Thus, the close range and the fact the helicopter was vulnerable while taking off could have conspired to make a "lucky shot," according to one official.
While this certainly seems heartbreaking, other have interpreted this as news that these deaths do not signify increased power or sophistication in the Taliban. "We are not seeing it as a game changer," an official told the Telegraph. "This was not a new tactic and it wasn't a new weapon." Now NATO is undertaking an operation to rescue the remains of the helicopter. Shahidullah Shahid, the Wardak provincial spokesman, said there were reports of Taliban casualties overnight, according to the Associated Press. The Telegraph further reports that eight insurgents were killed in the initial raid, and a further 12 were killed in subsequent fighting, according to a spokesman for Wardak's governor.