16 U.S. Troop Bodies Recovered

A U.S. soldier performs maintenance of CH-47 Chinook helicopters at Kandahar air field, southern Afghanistan, Wednesday, June 29, 2005. AP

The U.S. military confirmed Thursday that all 16 servicemembers aboard a special forces helicopter died when it crashed into a mountain ravine earlier this week, apparently after being shot down.

Previously, American soldiers battling rugged terrain, bad weather and heavily armed rebels Thursday reached the wreckage of a U.S. special forces helicopter that was shot down and crashed into a mountain ravine.

The remains of those killed were being recovered at the site in eastern Afghanistan where the MH-47 chopper went down Tuesday. The helicopter crashed while ferrying reinforcements to a battle against the insurgents, the military said in a statement.

The military reported earlier that 17 people were on board but revised that figure to 16 later Thursday.

"At this point, we have recovered all 16 bodies of those service men who were onboard the MH-47 helicopter that crashed on Tuesday," Lt. Gen. James Conway, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.

CBS News Correspondent Lara Logan reports that a spokesman said there is still fighting going on in the area of the crash site, which occurred as part of an ongoing operation named "Operation Red Wing."

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara "there are still bad guys in the area" around the crash site and that troops were having to "do a recovery and a tactical operation at the same time."

Logan said on CBS News' The Early Show that the province in northeast Afghanistan where the crash occurred is extremely mountainous and is known to be hostile to American troops. However, there has been some success in turning the feelings of the local people by paving roads and building mosques in the area.

The Chinook helicopter was one of four carrying members of a special operations unit into an operation against al Qaeda and Taliban fighters near the border with Pakistan when a second helicopter reported seeing an explosion, reports Martin.

Militants are believed to have shot down the helicopter as it was bringing in reinforcements for a battle with suspected al Qaeda fighters. A purported Taliban spokesman, Mullah Latif Hakimi, claimed responsibility, and also said rebels had a video of the attack.

Even before the crash was announced, a Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility and said he had footage of the attack. As of Thursday, no video had surfaced.

The helicopter was fired on as it was approaching a landing zone in the mountains. It flew on, but crashed about a mile away at dusk.

The troops on the helicopter comprise eight Navy SEALs and nine Army air crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which is based at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, military officials said Thursday. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the military has not formally announced the makeup of the forces on board.
  • John Esterbrook

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