Helicopter crash kills dozens in Afghanistan: implications for US war effort?
Helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan killed 31 US special forces troops and seven Afghan commandos. Officials are working to determine if insurgents brought down the craft, and if so, what technology allowed them to do so.
Kabul, Afghanistan; and New Delhi
A helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan claimed the lives of at least 31 American Special Forces soldiers and 7 Afghan soldiers on Saturday. The loss is the biggest single day death toll for the United States in nearly 10 years of war in Afghanistan.Skip to next paragraph
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The Taliban claimed responsibility for downing the Chinook helicopter in Wardak Province (see map), less than 100 miles west of Kabul. Officials for the International Security Assistance Force, however, say they are still “assessing the circumstances” of the crash. They also acknowledged that there was “enemy activity in the area.”
If the helicopter was shot down, it could have significant implications for the war effort. Insurgents have hit helicopters in the past, but never in any great numbers. If today’s crash is an isolated incident, it is unlikely to significantly affect the direction of the war or American public perception, despite the magnitude of casualties that included so many highly trained commandos. But if it marks the beginning of a trend in which insurgents use advanced anti-aircraft weapons, it could cost NATO crucial air superiority.
Helicopter crashes have traditionally generated the largest single casualty incidents during the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Chinook helicopters can carry large numbers of passengers and have contributed to the two previous most deadly days in Afghanistan for US forces on June 28, 2005 and April 6, 2005.
How was it shot down?
If insurgents are behind the crash, how they managed to shoot down the helicopter will likely prove a point of serious concern.
Large-caliber machine guns capable of serving as anti-aircraft weapons are widely available in Afghanistan. But so far insurgents have used these to little effect against helicopters. If militants managed to target the helicopter using a surface-to-air missile, however, it will spark major concerns.