In the single most deadly incident since the start of the Afghan war 10 years ago, 38 people were killed—including 30 U.S. personnel—when a U.S. CH-47 Chinook was shot down in a valley in central Maidan Wardak Province, a Taliban-stronghold, on Saturday, Aug. 6.
The heavy-lift transport helicopter was on its way to support U.S. troops engaged in a fierce firefight on the ground. Among the dead are 22 U.S. Navy SEALs, eight other American personnel, and eight Afghans.
The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility for shooting down the Chinook with a rocket propelled grenade.
NATO, which leads the international military operations in Afghanistan, announced on Sunday it is investigating whether the Taliban was responsible for the attack.
If the helicopter was indeed shot down by insurgents, it would be a huge morale boost for members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, that usually ramp up their attacks in Afghanistan during the summer months.
It also illustrates the level of instability that still exists in the country, as NATO and U.S. troops prepare to completely withdraw by the end of 2014 and handover responsibility for security to Afghan forces. By this year’s end, around 10,000 troops are to exit Afghanistan.
On Sunday, another four NATO troops were killed in two separate attacks by insurgents in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
Those deaths plus the fatalities in the Chinook crash puts the total number of foreign troop deaths in Afghanistan this year to 380. Last year was the deadliest year for servicemen in Afghanistan at 711 fatalities. By the end of August 2010, there had been 490 casualties on the year.
The deaths of the U.S. troops were felt across the United States over the weekend, sparking deep grief over the loss in the hometowns of those killed in the incident.
“Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan,” said President Obama on Saturday in response to the incident.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Saturday the international alliance is “determined to stay the course, especially in this crucial period when Afghan and international security forces are working closer than ever to make transition a success.”
U.S Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also reiterated on Saturday America’s commitment to the operations in Afghanistan.