Seven U.S. troops, including two Navy SEALS, were killed early Thursday when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan during combat operations, military officials said.
Three Afghan troops and an Afghan civilian interpreter also were killed in the crash, which occurred about 1 a.m. Thursday, according to a spokesman for the international coalition.
According to a defense official, the Afghan troops were members of their country’s special operations forces.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft over the Shah Walikoot district in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
A NATO spokesman said that claim could not be confirmed and an investigation into the cause of the crash was under way.
“At this point, it would be pure speculation to make a definitive claim one way or the other,” said Air Force Capt. Dan Einert, a spokesman for the NATO coalition.
It was the deadliest helicopter crash for U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year. The second-deadliest incident for U.S. troops occurred in January, when six Marines were killed when their heavy transport helicopter went down in southern Afghanistan.
Thursday’s incident is the deadliest known crash for special operators since last August, when 30 Americans were killed, most of them Navy SEALs.
These types of joint special operations have been touted by U.S. commanders as critical in routing Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan as the international coalition prepares to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.
The U.S. and the Afghan government signed a memorandum of understanding in April placing Afghan troops in the lead for all night raids of private homes or compounds.
There are about 9,000 U.S. special operators in Afghanistan, conducting indirect- and direct-action operations. Indirect-action operations include training Afghan police and national security forces and conducting village stability operations. Direct-action operations include night raids on Afghan homes.
NATO is training nine battalions of Afghan special operators that will then take over for U.S. special operators and enable them to draw down from Afghanistan.
Canadian army Maj. Gen. Jim Ferron, deputy commander of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, said the training of the Afghan special forces is “on time, on target.”
This week, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta noted the progress of Afghan commandos in joint missions and their importance for the future.
“The growth of Afghan special operations and having that capability has allowed Afghans to plan, conduct and lead special operations missions every day and every night,” he said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday.
For U.S. troops, transfer of security responsibility cannot come soon enough. August has been a particularly deadly month for U.S. special operators. Three Marines were killed when an Afghan police commander invited them to his home for dinner and opened fire on them last Friday, and three others were killed the same day by an Afghan civilian security officer.