Thirty-one US special forces and seven Afghan soldiers died when the Taliban shot down their helicopter, officials said today, in the deadliest single incident for foreign troops since the war began in 2001.
The Chinook helicopter was downed yesterday during an anti-Taliban operation in an insurgent-infested district of the eastern province of Wardak, just southwest of the Afghan capital Kabul.
It was shot down by a Taliban rocket which completely destroyed it, the Wardak governor’s spokesman said after the Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack.
The death toll was given in a statement issued by Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office and was not immediately confirmed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The statement added that seven Afghans were also killed in the crash, who the country’s defense ministry confirmed were also members of the special forces.
The strike was by far the worst to hit foreign troops in the near decade-long war. The previous worst saw 16 American soldiers killed in 2005 when a Taliban rocket hit their Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgent group was responsible for shooting down the helicopter, which he said was an American Chinook, and acknowledged that eight insurgents had been killed.
Chinooks are widely used by coalition forces in Afghanistan for transporting large numbers of troops and supplies around the war zone.
The crash takes the total number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 342, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by independent website iCasualties.org. Of those, 279 were from the US.
There are currently about 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, around 100,000 of them from the United States, fighting as part of the international force that has been in the country for almost 10 years.
Some troop withdrawals have already begun as part of a process which is due to see all foreign combat forces leave the country by the end of 2014.
However, the Taliban are still waging a bloody insurgency in the country. In recent weeks, a string of high-profile figures close to Karzai have been assassinated.
US special forces play a key role in the war against the Taliban and other insurgents by hunting down and killing high-profile fighters in targeted raids.
Foreign troop commanders say the east of Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan where insurgents have hideouts, will likely increasingly overtake the south as the focus of the war in coming months.