The recent catastrophic attack on US troopers underlines the undamaged capability of the Afghan Taliban to take the NATO forces by surprise and inflict heavy casualties on them and its determination to make the US withdrawal from Afghanistan a humiliating retreat and not a successful withdrawal, says senior analyst B Raman.
Seven officers of the Central Intelligence Agency of the US and an officer of the Jordanian Intelligence related to the royal family of Jordan were killed in a suicide attack launched on December 30, 2009, by Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a 36-year-old Al Qaeda sympathiser from Zarqa, Jordan, in the Khost area of Afghanistan.
It was seen as a joint operation by the followers of the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Pakistani Taliban followers of the late Baitullah Mehsud to jointly avenge the death of Zarqawi in Iraq and Baitullah in South Waziristan. They blamed the CIA for the death of their leaders.
In an operation reminiscent of the catastrophic Khost attack on the CIA by Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, the Afghan Taliban has managed to carry out a catastrophic attack on a US helicopter on August 5, carrying 30 US troops including 22 Navy SEALs, belonging to the same unit which had killed Osama bin Laden in a raid at Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2 -- killing all of them.
It is the largest fatality in a single incident ever suffered by the US during its military operations in Afghanistan launched in 2001 and the largest fatality ever suffered in a single incident by the Joint Special Operations Command, which controls the operations of the Navy SEALS since the JSOC was set up. Seven Afghan troops and an interpreter also died in the incident.
Latest reports indicate that the catastrophic incident, which has been greeted with shock and disbelief by the JSOC and the Navy SEALs, was the outcome of a trap successfully laid by the Afghan Taliban, which has claimed responsibility for bringing down the helicopter.
Afghan authorities seem to suspect that the attack was in retaliation for the successful raid by the Navy SEALs on the hide-out of Osama bin Laden at Abbottabad in Pakistan on May 2, which resulted in his death, but the Taliban itself in its claim of responsibility, has not so far projected the attack as in retaliation for the death of Osama.
It was not even clear whether the Taliban was aware of the presence of Navy SEALs from the same unit that killed Osama in the copter that it brought down.
The Agence France Presse has reported as follows on the trap:
"The Taliban lured US forces into an elaborate trap to shoot down their helicopter, killing 30 American troops in the deadliest such incident of the war, an Afghan official said on August 8.
"A total of 38 people -- 30 US troops, many of them special forces, plus seven Afghan commandos and an interpreter -- were killed when their Chinook came down during an anti-Taliban operation late Friday (August 5).
"The crash marked the biggest single loss of life for American and NATO forces since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan toppled the Taliban in late 2001, shortly after the September 11 attacks.
"The senior government official told AFP on condition of anonymity that a Taliban commander, Qari Tahir, lured US forces to the scene by tipping them off that a Taliban meeting was taking place.
"He also said four Pakistanis helped Tahir carry out the strike.
"Now it's confirmed that the helicopter was shot down and it was a trap that was set by a Taliban commander," said the official, citing intelligence gathered from the area.
"The Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take," he added.
"That's the only route, so they took position on either side of the valley on mountains and as the helicopter approached, they attacked it with rockets and other modern weapons. It was brought down by multiple shots.
"The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss the issue, also said President Hamid Karzai's US-backed government "thinks this was a retaliation attack for the killing of Osama bin Laden."
"The Taliban themselves did not make such an assertion on claiming responsibility for the attack, which took place in the Taliban-infested Sayd Abad district of Wardak province, just southwest of Kabul.
"US media has reported that the dead included members of the Navy's SEAL Team Six, the secretive unit behind the daring raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May.
"US administration sources interviewed by AFP said the casualties did not include anyone who took part in the bin Laden raid on May 2."
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that the CH-47 Chinook helicopter was fired on "by an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade while transporting the US service members and commandos to the scene of an ongoing engagement."
According to the statement, the operation had begun when ISAF troops searching for a Taliban leader in the Tangi Valley, surrounded by rugged mountains in central Maidan Wardak province about 80 km southwest of Kabul, were fired on by insurgents.
Several of the insurgents were killed before assistance was requested. "As the insurgents continued to fire, the combined force on the ground requested additional forces to assist the operation," the ISAF statement said.
"Those additional personnel were in-bound to the scene when the CH-47 carrying them crashed, killing all on board."
US media has quoted a spokesman of the Naval Special Warfare group as saying: "There's no precedent for this. It's the worst day in our history by a mile." Of the 22 Naval Special Warfare members killed, 17 were SEALs and five were direct support personnel.
Since the US military action began in Afghanistan in October, 2001, this is the second time that the Taliban has brought down a US helicopter. In an earlier successful strike by it in the Kunar province on June 28,2005, eight SEALS and eight other military personnel were killed when their copter was brought down by the Taliban. Another three SEALs were killed during a firefight on the ground.
An estimated 383 foreign troops have been killed so far this year, almost 50 of them in the first week of August. The catastrophic attack underlines the undamaged capability of the Afghan Taliban to take the NATO forces by surprise and inflict heavy casualties on them and its determination to make the US withdrawal from Afghanistan a humiliating retreat and not a successful withdrawal.