31 soldiers died and 7 Afghans from Taliban.
“Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — More than two dozen American troops are believed to have died in the deadly helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, a U.S. military official told CNN.
Many, if not all, were special operations forces, the official said. If the numbers are confirmed, the incident would be the most deadly for coalition forces in the Afghan war, according to a CNN count of international troop deaths.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a statement saying as many as 31 U.S. special forces and seven Afghans were killed and offered “deep regret” to U.S. President Barack Obama.
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan,” Obama said in a statement. “We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country.”
The Taliban claimed militants downed the helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. Mohammad Hazrat Janan, head of the provincial council said Tangi village elders reported that insurgents shot at the craft when it was flying back from an operation.
The incident took place in the eastern province of Wardak, an area rife with insurgent activity. There has been a swell of recent attacks in the country’s southern and eastern provinces.
The crash comes just as NATO is drawing down and handing over security control to national forces. Ten thousand U.S. soldiers are scheduled to depart by year’s end, while the full drawn-down is expected to take place by the end of 2014.
However, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has not said how the incident occurred. ISAF spokesman Justin Brockhoff confirmed the crash and acknowledged the helicopter had been flying in area where there was reported insurgent activity, but declined to offer additional details.
Officials are being especially tight-lipped because recovery operations at the site are still under way and body identifications and family notifications are just beginning, the U.S. military official said.
Last month, a NATO helicopter was brought down by insurgent fire in the country’s eastern province of Kunar. The Taliban also claimed responsibility for that attack, though no injuries were reported.
In a separate incident, a NATO service member died Saturday after an improvised explosive device detonated in southern Afghanistan.
Elsewhere Saturday, a joint Afghan and coalition force conducted raids in the eastern province of Nangarhar, killing “several insurgents,” NATO reported.
The operation also targeted a “Taliban facilitator,” who NATO says was responsible for supplying ammunition and bomb-making materials to the Taliban.
In July, a series of gun battles in Nangarhar between insurgents and NATO forces left at least 10 militants dead.
Currently, there are 150,000 ISAF forces in Afghanistan, including nearly 100,000 from the United States — the largest NATO presence in the region since the U.S.-led war began in 2001.”
David Ariosto is reporting from Afghanistan. Barbara Starr is reporting from the Pentagon.