The U.S. Defense Department is now reporting that all 16 servicemen on a U.S. helicopter shot down in Afghanistan on Tuesday died in the incident.
The director of operations for the U.S. military, Lieutenant General James Conway, made the announcement at a Pentagon news conference. "At this point, we have recovered all 16 bodies of those servicemen who were on board the MH-47 helicopter that crashed on Tuesday," he said.
General Conway confirmed reports that the men on the helicopter were special operations troops who were responding to a call for help from forces on the ground. But he said reports that some troops from the helicopter were executed by Taliban forces after the crash are not true. He also said no other U.S. troops have been reported killed or missing in the ongoing operation to clear Taliban forces from the mountainous area in northeastern Afghanistan. But he also inserted an element of doubt.
"It is an ongoing operation, in that context, and we don't have full accountability, nor will we until such time as the operation is complete," he said.
Another official said there is what he described as "an ongoing rescue mission" in the area.
General Conway downplayed the significance of the shooting down of the helicopter, which he said appears to have been done with a rocket propelled grenade. "This is the first helicopter that we've had shot down in Afghanistan. Indications are that it was an RPG (rocket propelled grenade), which is a pretty lucky shot, honestly, against a moving helicopter. There is no indication that there are more sophisticated ground-to-air systems that were involved. So, no, I don't see it as an increased level of sophistication," he said.
General Conway said the helicopter's mission was part of a routine operation, and did not involve any effort to capture any senior insurgent leader.