A NATO helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan has killed 38 people, including 22 U.S. Navy SEALs and seven Afghan soldiers — the highest number of American military casualties recorded in a single incident in the decade-long war.
The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that 30 American service members, a civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos were killed when their CH-47 Chinook crashed in the early hours Saturday.
The Associated Press reported that most of the Americans killed were from SEAL Team Six, the same elite unit that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a raid on a compound in Pakistan in May.
AP reported two unnamed U.S. officials as saying that none of the SEALs who died in the crash participated in the bin Laden raid, although they were from the same unit that carried out that mission.
Some of the deadliest military air crashes in Afghanistan since 2001:
- Sept. 21, 2010: U.S. Army Blackhawk crashes in southern Zabul province, killing nine troops on board, including four Navy SEALs.
- May 30, 2007: U.S. Chinook crashes while under fire in southern Helmand, killing one British, one Canadian and five American troops.
- Sept. 2, 2006: British Nimrod aircraft crashes near Kandahar in the south, killing 14 crew members.
- Aug. 16, 2005: Spanish helicopter crashes near the western city of Herat, killing 17 Spanish soldiers.
- June 28, 2005: U.S. helicopter is shot down in eastern Kunar province during a rescue operation, killing 16 special operations troops.
- April 6, 2005: U.S. Chinook helicopter crashes in a sandstorm near eastern Ghazni, killing 15 American troops and three civilian contractors.
Earlier Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement listing the number of U.S. fatalities at 31 and the number of Afghan deaths at seven.
The death toll from the crash surpassed the worst single day loss of life for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 — the June 28, 2005 downing of a U.S. military helicopter in eastern Kunar province.
In that incident, 16 Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops were killed when their craft was shot down while on a mission to rescue four SEALs under attack by the Taliban. Three of the SEALs being rescued were also killed and the fourth wounded.
Karzai expressed his condolences to U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement released by his office.
Obama mourned the deaths of the troops, saying in a statement that the crash serves as a reminder of the "extraordinary sacrifices" being made by the U.S. troops and their families. The president said he also mourned "the Afghans who died alongside our troops."
NATO confirmed the crash happened overnight and that there "was enemy activity in the area." But it said it was still investigating the cause and conducting a recovery operation at the site.
"We are in the process of accessing the facts," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a NATO spokesman.
The Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter with rocket fire while it was taking part in a raid on a house where insurgents were gathered in Wardak late Friday. It said wreckage of the craft was strewn at the scene.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said eight insurgents died in the incident.