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Taliban rocket downs helicopter, killing elite US soldiers

In one of deadliest attacks in Afghan war, a Taliban rocket strike on a chopper killed 30 Americans, most of them believed to be special forces commandos from th unit that killed Osama bin Laden.

Afghanistan us helicopter 05 03 2011Enlarge
A member of the U.S. Marine helicopter CH 53 crew sits at the back door as it flies over Marjah district in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on May 3, 2011. (Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan insurgents shot down a U.S. military helicopter during during a raid on an insurgent commander's compound, killing 30 Americans, most of them belonging to the same elite Navy SEALs unit that killed Osama bin Laden, as well as seven Afghan commandos, U.S. officials said.

The soldiers were reportedly from SEAL Team 6, the unit that gained infamy for its raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May. None of the 22 SEAL personnel killed were part of the team that killed bin Laden, but they belonged to the same unit, the AP reports.

According to the AP:

The casualties are believed to be largest loss of life in the history of SEAL Team 6, officially called the Navy Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. The team is considered the best of the best among the elite SEALs, which number 3,000 personnel. 

The missile destroyed the heavy-lift helicopter carrying the U.S. special forces soldiers as it flew over Wardak province, just southwest of Kabul, during a counter-insurgency operation, AFP reported.

If confirmed, it would be the worst loss of coalition forces in a single incident since 16 U.S. troops were killed when a Taliban rocket hit their Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar in 2005, AFP reported.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the strike early Saturday and the Wardak governor’s spokesman confirmed that an insurgent rocket downed the twin-rotor chopper.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai said Saturday in a statement that seven Afghan soldiers were also killed in the crash.

"The president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan expresses his sympathy and deep condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama and the family of the victims," Karzai's statement reportedly read.

NATO spokesman Justin Brockhoff, a U.S. air force captain, said the alliance was "accessing the facts" and would not confirm any of the details.

However, a current U.S. official and a former U.S. official told the A.P. that the Americans killed in the crash included 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers, and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.

Wardak resident Mohammad Saber said Saturday that he saw the helicopter crash during a late-night operation in his village.

"At around 10 p.m. last night we heard helicopters flying over us," he said.

"We saw one of the helicopters land on the roof of a house of a Taliban commander, then shooting started. The helicopter later took off but soon after taking off it went down and crashed. There were other helicopters flying as well."

Wardak provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP an insurgent rocket hit and "completely destroyed" the helicopter as it was taking off.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/war/afghanistan-war/110806/taliban-us-special-forces-helicopter-rocket-afghanistan