By LUIS MARTINEZ (@LMartinezABC)
Aug. 10, 2011
An F-16 airstrike Monday night killed the Taliban fighters believed to be responsible for shooting down the Chinook helicopter that killed 30 American servicemembers and eight Afghans. Included among the U.S. dead were 22 Navy Seals.
Gen. John Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the Taliban fighters were tracked through intelligence gathered in the aftermath of the crash, so that "we did in fact locate them with certainty, and we did strike them with an airstrike," Allen said.
He said the airstrike "does not ease our loss. But we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy."
Allen described the airstrike as a continuation of Saturday's original mission that targeted the head of an insurgent network in the Tangi Valley of Wardak province, located southwest of Kabul.
Defense officials said that Army Rangers were engaged in a firefight with insurgents who were protecting a leader who was the target of the raid. When a small group was spotted moving away from the firefight, the Rangers believed their target was about to escape. Defense officials said it is common for senior Taliban leaders to flee the scene of a fight and leave foot soldiers behind to carry on the fight without them. At the time, the firefight had already left six Taliban fighters dead.
That's when the Rangers called on the Immediate Response Force of Seals and Afghan commandos flying overhead to provide reinforcements to cut off the Taliban leader's escape.
It is believed that one of the insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade that brought the helicopter down. NATO issued a statement today stated that said "while it has not been determined if enemy fire was the sole reason for the helicopter crash, it did take fire from several insurgent locations on its approach."
A Defense official said an rocket-propelled grenade round was seen targeting the helicopter.
Following the crash, Allen said intelligence leads and tips generated by local residents helped track the insurgents. According to Allen, "learning their location, we were able to deliver ordnance on that position and to kill them as well."
ABC News has learned that a special operations team tracked the men visually for more than 12 hours Monday before it called in the airstrike. Both the RPG triggerman and his leader, Mullah Mohibullah, were spotted getting into a vehicle that took them into a compound located in a wooded area. The two men were then spotted leaving the compound for the wooded area. After it made sure there were no civilians in the area, the team called in the airstrike that killed both men as well as other Taliban associates. he strike occurred at 11:47 p.m. Afghanistan time.
According to a NATO statement, the two insurgents responsible for the shootdown were thought to be fleeing Afghanistan to avoid capture at the time of the airstrike.
Allen said the Chinook shootdown was "a singular incident in a broader conflict in which we are making important strides and considerable progress." Though there will be challenges in securing Afghanistan, Allen expressed confidence that "all across Afghanistan, the insurgents are losing. They're losing territory. They're losing leadership. They're losing weapons and supplies. They're losing public support."
Allen said he had no worries about using Chinook helicopters in the future, given how they have performed in thousands of special operation missions this year.