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Thursday 26 April 2018

'Taliban hits helicopter', killing 30 Nato troops

Death toll is alliance's worst single loss of life in 10-year Afghan war

Ben Farmer in Kabul and Jacqui Goddard

Nato forces suffered their worst single loss of life during the decade-long Afghan war when a helicopter was apparently shot down, killing 30 American personnel and seven Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.

Taliban insurgents and local officials said the Chinook helicopter had been downed by a rocket-propelled grenade moments following take-off after its passengers had stormed a house where Taliban fighters had gathered.

The helicopter broke into several pieces and was destroyed after crashing in a restive province south-west of Kabul, the Afghan capital, officials said.

Among the dead were 25 US Navy Seals -- a unit of elite commandos which also carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. Seven Afghan special forces, five crew and an interpreter were also reported to have died, along with a dog.

President Barack Obama said the deaths were "a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families".

A senior White House official confirmed the helicopter appeared to have been shot down, though military commanders in Kabul would not immediately say how the aircraft crashed. A statement given by the coalition in Kabul said "reporting indicates there was enemy activity in the area" and said an investigation was under way.

If the crash is confirmed to have been caused by a Taliban rocket, the incident would hand a propaganda coup to the insurgents as violence in much of the country remains at record levels.

The Taliban insurgents have no air power of their own and helicopter gunships are some of the most potent weapons in the Nato arsenal.

The crash in the Tangi Valley area of Wardak province brought the biggest death toll in one incident for the coalition since it began operations in Afghanistan in October 2001. It came a fortnight after Nato troops had begun to hand over parts of the country to Afghan control in advance of relinquishing combat duties by the end of 2014.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, immediately issued condolences to the White House.

Local reports said the crash happened around midnight after at least two helicopters had taken part in a raid against insurgents in a compound in the valley.

Wardak is viewed as a strategically critical province guarding the western "gate" to Kabul and has seen heavy Taliban infiltration.

Eight insurgents had been killed in the raid, but just after the helicopter took off again it came under fire, according to witnesses.

Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said: "The US chopper that crashed last night was shot down by the Taliban as it was taking off. A rocket fired by the insurgents hit it and completely destroyed it."

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, confirmed that eight of the movement's fighters had been killed in the battle.

Until yesterday the highest single death toll in Afghanistan had also come from a rocket attack on another Chinook helicopter carrying Navy Seals.

Sixteen Seals and Army special operations troops died on June 28, 2005, when their craft was shot down as they tried to rescue four comrades.

British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the US troops who were killed. Mr Cameron said, "I was deeply saddened to hear of the many US military personnel who lost their lives today in Afghanistan. They have made the ultimate sacrifice in helping to protect our security, and to build a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan."

Since the beginning of the Afghan war, which will reach its 10th anniversary in October, an estimated 2,655 coalition troops have died, including 374 killed this year.

© Telegraph

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