An August helicopter crash in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 30 US troops was caused by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by insurgents and not by any mistakes by commanders, the US military said Wednesday.
An investigation into the deadliest incident of the war for US forces found no fault with senior officers or chopper pilots in the operation and termed the August 6 downing of the Chinook helicopter a "tragedy."
The probe, conducted by US Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt, also said there was no evidence that the Chinook, which was carrying 25 elite special operations forces, had flown into a trap set by the Taliban as claimed by some Afghan officials at the time.
"The shoot down was not the result of a baited ambush, but rather the result of the enemy being at a heightened state of alert due to 31/2 hours of ongoing coalition air operations concentrated over the northwestern portion of the Tangi Valley" in Wardak province, Colt wrote in an executive summary of the report.
The Chinook had descended to about 150 feet and slowed as it approached a landing zone when insurgents in a mud-brick building nearby fired two RPGs, said the report.
The first RPG missed but the second hit the rear rotor blade, causing the chopper to plummet into a dry creek bed and explode in a fireball, the probe said.
All 38 people on board were killed, including seven Afghan forces and an interpreter.
The CH-47 helicopter had been ordered to bring in special operations forces to back up a Ranger unit pursuing a Taliban leader in the Tangi Valley.
One group of Taliban was fleeing the area and US officers feared the target of the operation, Qari Tahir, would escape.
The investigation endorsed the decision to deploy an "immediate reaction force" -- comprised of Navy SEAL commandos -- and to transport them in one helicopter.
"I have determined that this mission, and the tactics and resources employed in its execution, were consistent with previous US special operations missions and the strike forces selected to execute the mission were appropriate," Colt wrote.
The report said the decision to load the Navy SEAL unit onto a single chopper was "tactically sound" as more aircraft would have given insurgents more targets.
In the aftermath of the attack, the military faced questions about the use of the bulkier, slower-moving Chinooks and the large number of special operations forces assigned to the operation.
But commanders say there are no plans to scale back the use of the Chinooks and the investigation made no suggestion that any officers needed to be held accountable over the incident.
The investigation recommended future missions should ensure more surveillance aircraft are deployed, as in this case the task force commander did not request more planes due to time pressures.
And the probe also suggested the timing of aircraft flights before helicopters arrive should be carefully calibrated to avoid tipping off insurgent forces of an imminent ground operation.
After the helicopter went down, the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said the Taliban insurgents responsible for the attack were tracked down and killed in an F-16 air strike.
The attack was an emotional blow to the highly-trained, secretive US special operations forces, with the loss of 22 Navy SEAL commandos and three Air Force special operators.
Most of the Navy commandos came from the same SEAL team credited with killing Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a May raid in Pakistan.
The incident briefly put the Afghanistan war in the public spotlight, but most Americans are focused on the country's economic troubles and are unaffected by a distant conflict fought by an all-volunteer force.
by Dan De Luce
(c) 2011 AFP
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