The passengers and crew of the twin-rotor CH-47 Chinook helicopter probably never saw the rocket hurtling towards them. The explosion and fiery crash in Wardak province in eastern Afghanistan early on Saturday morning killed all 38 people aboard the lumbering chopper.
For U.S. forces, it was the bloodiest single incident of the 10-year-old Afghanistan war — and possibly a sign of the insurgency’s continued ability to introduce new weaponry. The attack is also a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of the U.S.-lead coalition’s indispensable helicopters. “Shock and disbelief,” is how one official characterized the reaction inside the military.
The dead include: five Army crew members, 19 U.S. Navy SEALs and their three support troops, an Afghan interpreter and seven Afghan commandos plus three Air Force controllers and one military working dog. “Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families,” President Barack Obama said.
Details of the shootdown are slowly emerging. “There will be multiple investigations,” a Special Operations Command official said.
Sometime late Friday, it appears, a team of U.S. Army Rangers got pinned down by insurgent fighters during a patrol in Wardak, a province just south of Kabul that, along with neighboring Logar province, is a major staging area for the Taliban and other insurgent groups.