Tuesday, August 09, 2011 By DEB RIECHMANN and LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - The loss of dozens of elite American troops to a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade is a window on the war to come -- focused increasingly on the type of special operations the troops were pursuing when their helicopter crashed.
The U.S. military released new details Monday about the crash in the Tangi Valley, a dangerous area of Wardak province on the doorstep of the Afghan capital. The 30 U.S. troops, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter who died were taking part in one of thousands of nighttime operations being conducted annually across the nation.
The sheer number of these missions is evidence that progress in the nearly decade-long war depends more on efforts to kill or capture insurgents than the overarching strategy of building support for the Afghan government at grassroots levels. And these missions will take on relatively more importance as troop levels decline.
Saturday's crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the war and raised anew questions in the United States about why U.S. troops are still fighting the unpopular conflict.
U.S. leaders vowed on Monday not to let the loss rewrite the war strategy.
"We will press on and we will succeed," President Barack Obama said at the White House.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, "As heavy a loss as this was, it would even be more tragic if we allowed it to derail this country from our efforts to defeat al-Qaida and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan."
In Kabul, German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said, "The incident, as tragic as it was in its magnitude, will have no influence on the conduct of operations."
Jacobson said troops continued Monday to recover every last piece of the helicopter and that no one was being allowed in or out of the heavily secured crash site during the investigation. A ceremony was held at Bagram Air Field, a massive military installation north of Kabul, to pay respect to fallen service members being sent back to the United States.
Marine Gen. John Allen, the new top commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, released a statement early Tuesday in honor of the fallen American and Afghan troops. "In life they were comrades in arms and in death they are bound forever in this vital cause," he said. "We cherish this selfless sacrifice."
Pentagon officials said two C-17 aircraft carrying the remains of U.S. and Afghan troops killed in the crash left Afghanistan Monday night en route to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. They said that there will be no public media coverage at the Dover base during the ceremony that typically takes place when the bodies of fallen troops arrive because the badly damaged remains are mingled and still being identified.
Many of the Americans who died were members of the Navy's SEAL Team Six, the unit that conducted the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Pakistan. But none of the SEALs killed in the crash took part in the bin Laden mission. The official name of the SEAL team is the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.