Who Will Be the Last 31 Americans to Die in Effort to Kill the Last 31 Al Qaeda Members in Afghanistan?

There are early reports out that the Taliban shot down a NATO helicopter with a rocket propelled grenade. Hamid Karzai has said the casualties include 31 Americans and 7 Afghans. And while President Obama has not put a number on the deaths, he has put out a statement mourning the loss.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan. Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan. We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied.  We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country. At this difficult hour, all Americans are united in support of our men and women in uniform who serve so that we can live in freedom and security.

So it seems America has suffered around 31 deaths in one incident, in a war ostensibly being fought to destroy al Qaeda.

Yet David Petraeus has said there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda members in Afghanistan, and fewer than 10-20 al Qaeda leaders remain alive anywhere.

In this one incident, we lost roughly as many Americans as remaining members of our purported enemies exist.

That’s not the way to win the war on terror.

Update: Yochi Dreazen’s thoughts on significance of this incident.

Update: Reports now say that at least 20 of the men killed in the crash were SEAL Team 6, the same unit (though not necessarily the same men) that killed OBL.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

33 replies
  1. P J Evans says:

    I have to assume that someone in the DC establishment is getting something useful out of the continued illegal wars, but I don’t see what it might be, if not things that can be used on us rebellious peasants when we show up with the pitchforks and torches.

  2. Sad Iron says:

    “We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country.” I wonder who “we” is. Americans will be really torn up over this, I’m sure.

  3. HotFlash says:

    War is the original mechanism of transferring wealth from citizens/peasants/working class to rulers/wealthy/military-industrial complex. The insurance co’s got cut into the deal, first with mandatory auto ins, now mandatory health ins. No Child Left Behind etc. cuts in education/testin/publishing. Private prisons, of course.

    And many have interesting side benefits, too, eg ‘education’, physical control. No congresscritter can afford to stray too far from the approved lines, either, as Marian Currinder documents in Money in the House.

  4. jo6pac says:

    Yep, did the bad guys find the lost cia stringers? I just read people in the area heard/saw a missile fired at the helo.

  5. KWillow says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the helicopter crashed with no assistance from the Taliban or AlQueda: they’re very delicate machines.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @SaltinWound: Yeah, I was wondering that myself. There is accumulating evidence our govt has broken all the rules about using journos. And that kind of non-institutional journalistic affiliation is just what we have used in the past.

  7. bmaz says:

    @KWillow: Doubtful. Helicopters crash enough, but it is pretty easy to distinguish a crash from a takedown. And the government never admits to a takedown, as they have here, if they can possibly attribute it to a mechanical failure or accident.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @KWillow: In addition to what bmaz said, the earliest reports were that the Taliban had taken another chopper down in the same general area. If that’s true (and it has thus far only been sourced to the Taliban, so may be empty boasting), it suggests there might be something more ominous going on.

  9. Kathleen says:

    “Reports now say that at least 20 of the men killed in the crash were SEAL Team 6, the same unit (though not necessarily the same men) that killed OBL.”

    Had a friend who was in the seals almost 35 years ago. Real patriots most of them…certainly people who believe in this country. Very sad.

    I am still in touch with my friend Haroon (allowed to say his name) who was a Fulbright scholar at Ohio University for three years. When he went back he was in the counter narcotics branch of the Karzi government (cough). Had a bullseye on his back. Just dropped that job after his uncle a cousin and his uncles son in law were killed by the Taliban in the last three months. He keeps reporting things are horrible for the people of Afghanistan. But most of us know that.

    When Bush and team invaded Iraq he and his father (who fought against the Russians) kept repeating “does the Bush administration want to lose Afghanistan again” since the Taliban was on the run after the invasion.

    They also both back in 2004 kept repeating tht the only way to deal with Taliban was to bring them to the table. The more moderate.
    The Afghan massacre: The convoy of Death sure left some Afghani folks pissed off. No mention no apology.

    And now the neo cons have been relentlessly trying to link Al Queda to Iran. We are going to hear that repeated over the next year over and over. Race for Iran has been covering this.

  10. posaune says:

    Is it possible that they were “selectively” taken out? i.e., possible witnesses to OBL’s “demise?”

  11. Cregan says:

    While I am no fan of Obama, and I hope he is not re-elected, as an American, I am getting concerned that he is getting so weak that we are going to open the door to chaos and a total loss in confidence in the US on many fronts.

    It might be time for everyone to prop him up a bit to avoid a real collapse.

  12. matthew carmody says:

    @KWillow: I was a Marine helicopter crew chief in Vietnam. The planes are about as delicate as Jesse Ventura. Unless it was overloaded, had engine trouble, lost hydraulics to the controls, or crashed into a mountain, this is almost certainly not an accident.

  13. newz4all says:

    New Secretary of War Leon Panetta Hypes al Qaeda to Ward Off More Defense Cuts

    Secretary of War Leon Panetta has disconcertingly started his tenure fear-mongering about al Qaeda as a justification not to go beyond the President’s proposed $400 billion cuts to the Defense Department over ten years.

    It seems that one week, al Qaeda is on the run and “near collapse” and the next, al Qaeda remains the reason why the US needs to continue to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a Pentagon designed to fight the wrong wars.

    This is irresponsible hyping of a threat to justify massive defense spending during a period of real fiscal stress.

    Leon Panetta needs to get to work transforming the Pentagon and needs to elevate his game — learning how to talk about vital national security deliverables in terms of deeds done and future strategy rather than trying to convince increasingly skeptical Americans that national security is purely a function of the dollars spent.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/08/leon-panetta-hypes-al-qaeda-to-ward-off-more-defense-cuts/243198/

  14. Garrett says:

    How big is DevGru? The usual guesses seem to be 200 to 300. GlobalSecurity guesses 200.

    A new Army Times says

    DevGru has four line squadrons — Blue, Gold, Red and Silver — plus a strategic reconnaissance element known as Black Squadron.

    Each squadron is divided into three troops. The crash wiped out an entire troop in Gold Squadron, said the NSW source.

    15 members in the troop, 3 troops per squadron, and 5 squadrons, would be 225 total DevGru members.

    An interesting point of departure between GlobalSecurity and Army Times: Global Security doesn’t mention the Black squad.

    There also is or was a Dev Group in DevGru. A group in the Q role:

    There was also an administrative and testing section, which numbered approximately 300 personnel. These individuals were responsible for the actual testing and development of new NAVSPECWAR equipment, including weapons.

    GlobalSecurity

    The Army Times lists some command changes:

    The Wardak incident also occurred less than three days prior to the change of command at U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., that will see Adm. Eric Olson relinquish command to another SEAL, Vice Adm. William McRaven, who was the JSOC commander for the bin Laden mission. (McRaven is due to be promoted to admiral immediately prior to the change of command.)

    Army Lt. Gen. Joe Votel has since replaced McRaven as the JSOC commander.

  15. scribe says:

    That’s pretty good aimin’ on the shooters’ part, finding the one helo (of so, so many in A-stan) that had a bunch of Seal Team 6 guys on board.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, but there appears to have already been a …. well, war …. going on right there; i.e. the Chinook was bringing in reinforcements and extractors for another group already pinned down by enemy. If that is true, it pretty much explains why the Chinook full of Seals and forward air controllers came right to them so as to be targeted.

  16. Garrett says:

    Fog of war, DevGru style

    The update AP article is saying that Army Special Ops Aviation was flying the mission:

    The operators from SEAL Team Six were flown by a crew of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. That’s according to one current and one former U.S. official.

    The Army Times article is saying that Army Special Ops Aviation did not fly the mission:

    The remaining U.S. military casualties were divided between a five-person regular Army aircrew and three Air Force combat controllers, said a special ops source who has been briefed on the incident. The use of a regular Army Chinook to fly a JSOC mission was “atypical,” the source said. Most JSOC missions involving helicopters are flown by the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).

    The DevGru attempted rescue of aid-worker Linda Norgrove had about the most wildly contradictory media reporting I’ve ever seen. Contradictory about far more than who threw the grenade that killed her.

    The fog of war, in what sources say to the newspapers about DevGru missions, seems be especially thick.

  17. Garrett says:

    @Chief:

    You can practically see the wheels turning in the military PR and the media minds. Our bestest and brightest shot down? Must be some new fancy missile.

    Wikileaks Afganistan War Logs is a good source to get a picture of how much and how long they’ve actually been concerned with the issue.

  18. harpie says:

    One of the reporters on that AP article [Update II], Kimberly Dozier was caught “in a clear act of media manipulation” byt Kevin Gosztola this week.

    http://tinyurl.com/3hnh7ms

    [click through]

    Do we believe her today?
    That’s the problem with breaking trust, Ms. Dozier.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, I dunno, I think Gosztola and you may be a bit ahead of yourselves there. First off, there are often different versions of AP stories, and neither he nor you have any evidence for knowing whether it was Dozier (unlikely) and AP editor (maybe) or simply the particular outlet picking up the story (also maybe). Irrespective of the mechanism, the purported big “manipulation” looks exaggerated and puffed to my eye. That is a lot of pretty thin ginned up hyperventilation to be saying that there can never be any credibility left for Kim Dozier.

  19. harpie says:

    I see what you’re saying, bmaz, and agree that it might have been [even probably was]the editor or someone else. I was probably wrong to lay the blame at Dozier’s feet without being sure.

    Still, she was the moderator for the Forum which Lute was a part of, and I think that should have been made clear in the article.

    Also, why change the article substantially and keep the same time/date stamp? Have you noticed AP doing that? They don’t change the time/date? I don’t know.

    In my opinion, “manipulation” is not too strong a word for what someone at AP did.

  20. bmaz says:

    @harpie: It is frustrating with AP sometimes because their feeds do change; I used to notice that a lot when I just picked up AP stories on Google News.

  21. rugger9 says:

    @Kathleen:

    The only way Al Qaeda aligns with Iran is on an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” basis. Our actions may force them to that extreme, but anyone that understands Islam better than Faux News does knows this dictum. Some background: Iran is the wellspring of Shia Islam, which considers itself to be the one true version of Islam waiting for the 12th Imam to return, very fundie in its outlook. Al Qaeda is a fundamentalist Sunni Islam group springing from Wahhabi precepts. They consider anyone else [Shia, Salafi, not-observant-enough Sunni, etc.] to be apostates, which is about the worst thing a Muslim can be called. These two branches have been fighting each other for 14 centuries, immediately after the passing of Mohammed, and have no compunctions about blowing up each other’s religious sites. They’ll leave Mecca and Medina alone, maybe Jerusalem as well, but that’s about it.

    The only reason Faux pushes the story line is that the neocons somehow think we need to be involved in Iran, and this is how it will be packaged this time, after the lies about Iraq, combined with the various details we are learning about the hunt for OBL by Shrub. War means that state security can be invoked with impunity, fat contracts for Halliburton, Xe, and their ilk, and no real oversight as to who got the $$$ and what they did with it. It’s the perfect business model for the greedy pigs at the top.

    The only way Iran harbors Al Qaeda is if we make it happen, like we made it happen in Iraq. The only reason Bibi wants to bomb Iran is to prop up his failing government. The USA get blamed if that happens, as floated around a month ago as a must-do…

    The only way we can hope to win in Iran (more cohesive, better military than Iraq, plus they choke off the Straits of Hormuz where significant oil flows) is by implementing a draft. Plus, who thinks that China and Russia (especially Putin) wouldn’t assist the Iranians like they have been over the years on the nuc program? Only a neocon dimwit doesn’t think that aid wouldn’t be provided to Iran by those two amigos, even if just “volunteer” when given the opportunity to knock us down another peg and weaken the US to stop another policy attack, like Korea and/or Taiwan. No one has ever won a strictly air-based campaign, dating to the days of Goering. To hold land requires boots on the ground. That means a draft is necessary, unless the economy is so tanked that the only paying jobs are military. Perhaps that’s what this is about, it certainly worked in “1984”.

  22. rugger9 says:

    @emptywheel:

    It does beg the question whether that particular chopper was targeted specifically because ST-6 was riding on it. If the answer was “no” it’s problematic enough because of the prevalence of stingers and assorted other weapons provided by the USA over the years. As noted by Matthew @17, the CH-46 has been a reliable workhorse for decades. No reason to keep them this long if they were turkeys. I also agree with the comment that unless the Army ran out of reasons to blame mechanicals or pilot error, a shootdown isn’t going to be used as a reason for the crash. The Taliban will claim almost anything to prop up their reputation, take their pronouncements with lots of salt. The “no” option means more rooting-out operations will be needed to get the guns.

    The “yes” option of the possible answers means that the intel inside the mission is severely compromised. Revenge killings, honor killings, and blood feuds are normal there, and that this chopper was hit is interesting. Recall that the ISI is riddled with Talibanis which is why we raided without their help [though they knew OBL was there, and at least one ISI faction wanted OBL gone, there aren’t any other explanations for the sustained passivity so close to the military school], that Pakistan is still nominally an ally (under great strain from the raid as well as the drone strikes), and as an ally we would let probably them know where and when we would be flying. Not necessarily who, however, and that’s the crux How did the Taliban know who was on that CH-46? Do we have a statement/claim timeline to see if the Taliban announced the details BEFORE the USA did? If the Taliban scooped us, we have another mole.

    The other useful question in all of this is WHY are we still there, given that the war aims declared at the beginning were now completed? OBL kaput? Check. Taliban out of power for harboring OBL? Check. Karzai wants us out? He says so repeatedly , but even he knows that our presence is what keeps him alive and in power, such as it is. The Taliban won’t be able to take over the entire country again, the warlords will ensure that never happens because they’d be gone too. So, check.

    Apparently there’s a pipeline to be built. That’s why.

  23. rugger9 says:

    @rugger9:

    If the oil companies want to have security for their pipeline, they should go on the free market they love so much instead of killing our troops. Just sayin’.

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