Night raid ended in worst tragedy for US Special Forces
The mission that left 30 American soldiers, including 22 Navy Seals, dead on Saturday morning in eastern Afghanistan was just one of the dozens of operations carried out by United States Special Operations Forces every week in Afghanistan.
The only difference was the disastrous ending.
While SEAL Team 6 gained worldwide fame with the raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden, Saturday's ill-fated operation reflected the reality of a unit that regularly targets insurgents whose names and faces are almost completely unknown outside military and intelligence circles, the Washington Post reports.
In this case, the mission was aimed at suspects in a series of attacks on foreign convoys along a highway south of Kabul, according to a US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Image: Images of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden are displayed for sale at a roadside shop in Karachi
Photographs: Athar Hussain/Reuters
Afghanistan needs US Special Operations forces
Some reports on Sunday suggested that SEAL Team 6, which suffered substantial losses when a Chinook helicopter was shot down by an apparent insurgent's rocket-propelled grenade, joined the mission after another unit asked for backup.
US Special Operations forces have been a critical component of the war strategy in Afghanistan, executing operations in remote and volatile locations that are often inaccessible to ground troops.
In Wardak Province's Tangi Valley, where the crash occurred, US troops had recently withdrawn from the area's sole combat outpost.
Image: A US Army crewman sits at the rear of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters
US Special Forces missions will become more frequent
Such missions are expected to become increasingly important as the United States begins withdrawing troops in the coming months, leaving NATO without the manpower to conduct the traditional counterinsurgency operations at the heart of the troop surge over the past 18 months.
Saturday's mission was a night raid, which is usually a joint operation between NATO and Afghan forces, often informed by lengthy intelligence-gathering efforts.
Afghanistan is in the process of developing its own commandos, and the raids are seen as key to building that nascent force's capacity.
Image: Afghans watch as a US Chinook helicopter leaves after a security handover ceremony in Panjshir province
Photographs: Ahmad Masood/Reuters
Special Forces conducted 2,000 raids
Officially, NATO would not confirm whether the crash was due to insurgent fire, saying an investigation has been launched into the incident.
The Special Operations missions are seen as critical not only by the Americans and other foreign contingents in Bagram but also by Afghans, who lack an air force of their own and often find themselves dependent on NATO air support.
A senior defence department official told New Yorker magazine recently that in the past couple of years, Special Operations forces conducted almost 2,000 targeted raids.
The vast majority of those did not result in casualties among US or Afghan forces.
Senior US military officials said the loss of the SEALs would have little impact on the US military's ability to conduct strikes on senior and mid-level Taliban officials.
Image: Soldiers board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Panjwai district in Kandahar province
Photographs: Baz Ratner/Reuters