Conflict & Justice

Taliban that shot down U.S. chopper killed in Afghanistan


A U.S. Chinook helicopter flies over a valley in Afghanistan. An Afghan official says the Taliban laid an elaborate trap for the Chinook they shot down on Friday, killing 38 troops including 30 Americans.


Ted Aljibe

In a statement, the International Security Assistance Force announced Wednesday that the militants responsible for the downing of a CH-47 helicopter last week, which led to the deaths of 30 Americans and eight Afghans, were killed in a precision airstrike in Afghanistan's central Wardak province.

The strike, the statement said, also killed a Taliban leader named Mullah Mohibullah, as well as the very insurgent that fired the shot that took down the chopper on Aug. 6.

On the night the chopper was shot down, the Special Forces on board had been pursuing Taliban members in Tangi valley that belonged to Mohibullah's network, according to ISAF.

"After an exhaustive manhunt, Special Operations forces located Mullah Mohibullah and the shooter after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens. The two men were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture," the press statement read.

The Reuters news ageny also released Wednesday one of the most detailed accounts of the fight that led to the downing of the chopper. Despite widespread speculation that the special forces were caught in an elaborate trap, or were involved in a rescue mission, the Reuters report says that neither is true.

Instead, according to Reuters, an ISAF Special Operations Command team was in a gunfight on the ground when a small group of Taliban militants broke away. The team called in what it calls an "Immediate Reaction Force," which is a standby unit. The IRF was called in to pursue the militants that had scattered, not to rescue any ISAF soldiers on the ground.

The entire Reuters account, however, is based on anonymous ISAF officials, so there is no telling how much of it is true. So we'll be keeping our ears and eyes tuned to see how this story, which is of the worst attack on U.S. forces in the history of the decade-long Afghanistan War, develops over time.

The U.S. military has a long and storied history of spinning facts to curry favor for the war and to make its soldiers look more heroic, something it is now desperate to do as support for the war reaches an all time low.

The most recent, and probably the most famous, instance of such subterfuge was the elaborate story told of Jessica Lynch's capture and subsequent rescue. Lynch later marveled in front of a televised session of the U.S. Congress at the degree to which her story had been exaggerated.

The other most famous example is the story of American football player Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. In the days after his death, the military said he died at the hands of insurgents and awarded him several posthumous medals. It was later discovered, after an investigation, that Tillman had actually been killed by friendly fire.

Lynch said in her testimony that such fabricated stories of heroics diminish the legacy of all the other soldiers living and fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere who deserve no less credit. Check out these photos, for instance, of U.S. soldiers based at a remote outpost in Baylough, Afghanistan who almost daily take fire from Taliban forces.

And, also, be sure to read this moving piece about the daily lives of U.S. medevac crews.

Follow Peter Gelling on Twitter: @petergelling