At least 13 of the militants responsible for shooting down a US helicopter carrying Navy SEAL Team 6 members, causing the single deadliest American loss since the Afghanistan War began were killed in an airstrike this week, say Afghan and US officials.
International forces reportedly acted on intelligence that members of the Taliban who shot down the Chinook helicopter on Saturday, killing 30 US military personnel and eight others in Afghanistan's Wardak province, were hiding approximately 20 miles from the crash site, preparing to flee the country to avoid capture.
While the airstrike is unlikely to have a significant impact on the Taliban, it bears symbolic importance for the US Special Forces community, especially the Navy SEALs who suffered one of the worst losses in the history of the organization when their helicopter was shot down last week.
“It’s not important for the Taliban. If they lose a group like this, they can easily find more fighters,” says Farouk Meranai, a former member of parliament from Nangarhar province. He adds that people should be more concerned with whether insurgents now have anti-aircraft capabilities. “If they got the chopper in Wardak then they can do it in other parts of Afghanistan.”
In an airstrike on Tuesday, International Security Assistance Forces say they targeted a safe house where the militants were hiding. The strike killed 13 of them, says Abdul Kayum Baqizoi, the police chief of Wardak province. Two militants managed to escape.
“These are the Taliban who were involved in the attack against the chopper,” he says. Officials from the Wardak governor’s office have also confirmed the militants’ connection to the helicopter attack.
The group of 15 militants fled Saydabad District’s Tangi Valley immediately after the helicopter incident and took refuge in the safe house in the neighboring Chak District. Villagers say the raid took place shortly after midnight in the Siyab Dara area of Chak.
International and Afghan officials say their intelligence confirms the militants' involvement in the helicopter attack. Two of the people reportedly killed in the raid were prominent Taliban commanders from Tangi Valley where the helicopter was shot down. Mullah Mohibullah, the top Taliban commander in Tangi Valley, and Shafiullah, a sub-commander in Tangi Valley, were also among the dead.
"The strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah and the insurgent who fired the shot associated with the Aug. 6 downing of the CH-47 helicopter, which resulted in the deaths of 38 Afghan and coalition service members," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
On the night of the crash, the US military was conducting an operation against insurgents in Mohibullah's Taliban cell.
"After an exhaustive manhunt, Special Operations forces located Mullah Mohibullah and the shooter after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens," said the ISAF in the statement.
Although US officials say they are still investigating the cause of the crash, they have officially acknowledged that insurgents fired on the Chinook with rocket-propelled grenades. There has also been speculation that insurgents may have lured the soldiers into a trap that allowed them to easily target the helicopter.
The crash killed seven Afghan commandos, a civilian interpreter, and 30 US military personnel, resulting in the largest US loss of life in a single event in nearly a decade of war in Afghanistan.
Among the US dead were 22 US Navy SEALs, many of whom were part of SEAL Team 6, which is also known as the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU. DEVGRU was the team involved in the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.
There are approximately 2,500 active duty SEALs, only a few hundred are selected to serve in DEVGRU. The organization is seen as one of the most elite units in the entire US military. It takes years of training that costs about $1 million to produce a single Navy SEAL.