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WASHINGTON, DC-A senior administration official says the helicopter that crashed Saturday carrying 31 U.S. special operations forces and seven Afghan soldiers was apparently shot down by insurgents in Afghanistan.

It was the highest number of American casualties recorded in a single incident in the decade-long war. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the crash is still being investigated.

The Taliban claims to have brought the helicopter down with a rocket attack, but they have been known to make exaggerated claims in the past.

According to ABC, a total of 38 people were on board the Chinook helicopter when it crashed overnight in the eastern Afghan province of Wardak.

Initial reports from ABC indicate up to 22 Navy SEALs were on the aircraft at the time.

It was also carrying seven Afghan Special Forces troops, one interpreter, five member helicopter crew and one dog.

Troops were apparently involved in a raid at the time.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the deaths of Americans in the crash are a reminder of the 'extraordinary' price the U.S. military is paying in the decade-long Afghan war.

Obama's statement did not confirm the number killed or other details of the crash. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the crash killed 31 U.S. special operation troops and seven Afghan commandos.

A senior administration official said the helicopter that crashed in eastern Afghanistan was apparently shot down by insurgents in the deadliest single incident of the conflict for
U.S. forces. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the crash is still being investigated.

Obama, who learned of the incident at Camp David, issued a statement saying his thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who perished.

'Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan,' the president said.
'We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied.'

Obama said he also mourned the loss of seven Afghans 'who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country.'

Karzai sent his condolences to Obama, according to a statement issued by his office.

NATO officials in Afghanistan said they were trying to determine the details of what happened, but they acknowledged there was 'enemy activity' in the area.

The toll Saturday surpassed the worst single-day loss of life for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001 -- the June 28, 2005 downing of a military helicopter in
eastern Kunar province. In that incident, 16 Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops were killed when their craft was shot down while they were attempting to rescue four SEALs under attack
by the Taliban.

Pentagon leaders are mourning the deaths of the 38 U.S. and Afghan troops killed when their helicopter crashed Saturday.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says he is deeply saddened by the loss, and vowed that the U.S. will stay the course to complete the mission to make the world a safer place.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the best way to honor their sacrifice is to keep fighting. He asks for patience as the military works to notify families of their losses. He says the troops' deaths aren't just statistics, and everything should be done to support the families.




(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV-08-06-11 0800EDT

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