What Happened In Afghanistan?

US soldier with US Flag over a map of Afghanistan.
AP / CBS
The last radio contact was an urgent appeal for help. Night was falling, a rainstorm threatening, and four Navy SEAL commandos were surrounded by about a dozen militants in rugged, wooded mountains. They needed reinforcements.

That hurried call set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the U.S. military's deadliest blow in Afghanistan, and the greatest loss of life ever for the elite force of SEALs.

Nine days after the ambush and subsequent downing of a U.S. special forces helicopter with 16 troops aboard, U.S military officials in Kabul and Washington are starting to draw a clearer picture of what happened and have revealed some details.

The four commandos — one of whom was rescued, two killed and one who remains missing — were on a reconnaissance mission on June 28 as part of Operation Red Wing, searching for Taliban-led rebels and al Qaeda fighters in Kunar province, U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said.

The eastern province has long been a hotbed of militant activity and a haven for fighters loyal to renegade former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the United States. U.S. officials said al Qaeda fighters also were in the region. Osama bin Laden was not said to be there — though he is believed to be somewhere along the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier.

The region's rugged, wooded mountains are popular with militants because they are easy to infiltrate from neighboring Pakistan and have plenty of places to hide.

The SEAL team — specially trained "not only in the art of combat, but also in medicine and communications" — were attacked by a "pretty large force of enemy terrorists" and radioed for reinforcements, Yonts said at a press conference.

After the radio call for help, eight Navy SEALs and an eight-member crew from the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, flew toward the mountains in a special forces MH-47 Chinook helicopter.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com