NATO: Helicopter makes hard landing in Afghanistan

August 8, 2011 - 2:30 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A NATO helicopter made a hard landing Monday in an eastern Afghanistan province, the U.S.-led coalition said, in an incident on the heels of the fatal downing of another Chinook helicopter dispatched to bring in reinforcements for elite troops under attack two days earlier.

NATO did not report any casualties and said the cause of the hard landing in Paktia province was under investigation. The coalition said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time.

The helicopter was a CH-47 flying in to pick up special operations troops, but apparently suffered a mechanical failure and crash-landed, an officer in the war zone said. He could not be named because he was not authorized to comment publicly. The crew was rescued by the troops.

The hard-landing came after another Chinook was apparently shot down on Saturday in eastern Wardak province as it rushed to reinforce and add firepower to Army Rangers who had come under fire, a number of U.S. officials said.

Thirty Americans and eight Afghans — seven commandos and a civilian translator — were killed in the crash, making it the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

A current and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force members and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.

All but two of the SEALs were from SEAL Team 6, the unit that killed Osama bin Laden, officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

The Rangers, special operations forces who work regularly with the SEALs, secured the crash site in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak province, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) southwest of Kabul, one of the officials said.

Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still ongoing.

The heavy loss shows that clandestine tactics carry huge risks despite the huge success of the SEAL mission that killed Osama bin Laden more than three months ago. Most of the SEALs who died Saturday were from the same unit that killed bin Laden, although none of the men took part in that mission.

The U.S.-led coalition plans to rely more on special operations missions as it reduces the overall number of combat troops by the end of 2014.

There were conflicting accounts late Sunday as to whether the SEAL team had subdued the attackers who had pinned down the Rangers and were departing, or whether they were hit as they tried to land. One official said they had accomplished their mission, but another said it was hit as it approached.

NATO was recovering the remains of the twin rotor Chinook helicopter.

Eight Taliban fighters were also killed in the battle, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

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Associated Press Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this story from Washington.