U.S. military officials have acknowledged that communications problems together with bad weather as well as hostile al-Qaida forces contributed to the deaths of seven Americans in a fierce battle in Afghanistan in early March.
The mountaintop battle of Takur Ghar was the deadliest firefight of the Afghan war for U.S. forces, claiming seven American lives. But a report issued by defense officials Friday said that despite the losses, U.S. troops distinguished themselves with what a statement termed "conspicuous bravery."
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, called it an example well worth remembering as the country prepares for the Memorial Day holiday on Monday. "This battle is characteristic of so many battles in our history where we have seen a group of wonderful people doing their job in the toughest possible terrain," he said. "It is the stuff of which heroes are made."
The incident is the one in which a U.S. helicopter came under intense fire as it attempted to land on a key mountaintop during Operation Anaconda, the big March allied sweep against al-Qaida hideouts in eastern Afghanistan.
The helicopter came under fire as it was preparing to land. An American commando fell out while the badly-damaged aircraft struggled to fly away. The commando was killed by al-Qaida as were six other Americans who dropped in later in a bid to rescue him.
The after-action report compiled by defense officials said the enemy positions on the mountaintop were well-concealed and included a heavy machine gun positioned to shoot down aircraft, something apparently not known before the U.S. raid.
The report also concedes communications problems plagued the rescue effort. But a senior defense official disputed suggestions the attack was somehow a failure, noting the dug-in al-Qaida forces were all killed.