US forces suffered a tragic blow in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. A MH-47 Night Stalker was shot down while conducting a support mission for a special operations observation team working in the mountains at about 10,000 feet above sea level, alone in perhaps the most harsh and dangerous territory on the planet. The MH-47 serves in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and is a specialized helicopter designed for “overt and covert infiltrations, exfiltrations, air assault, resupply, and sling operations over a wide range of environmental conditions.”
The ground team came under heavy fire from al Qaeda/Taliban fighters and called for assistance. Reports indicate the crew of the Night Stalker and a Navy SEAL squad been lost after being shot down with an RPG, however ROFASix reports the likely culprit was an SA-16 Gimlet, an advanced Russian made surface to air weapon. Matt Heidt from Froggy Ruminations states “this would be the largest casualty incident in SEAL Team history.” The impact is felt in Rev. Donald Sensing’s home town.
The crash site has been secured, and the BBC is reporting the bodies of 13 Americans have been recovered. The special operations ground team is also unaccounted for at this time. An A-10 Thunderbolt and Predator drone provided air support at the crash site until the relief mission could be conducted.
The composition of the forces lost tells us plenty about the mission. They were supporting Operation Red Wing, which is the hunt for al Qaeda and Taliban leadership on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mullah Omar are specific targets of this operation.
While this is purely speculation, the ferocity of the attack on the ground team, the composition of the US relief force, and the sophistication of the attack on the Night Stalker may indicate the ground team sniffed out an important node in the al Qaeda/Taliban chain of command. CENTCOM states units are moving to blocking positions to prevent the escape of the attacking unit.