Revenge: U.S. airstrike kills Taliban who shot down SEALs' chopper

They haven’t — yet — liquidated the original target of Saturday’s mission, but the group responsible for the chopper hit has gone to meet Allah. How’d they do it? Bill Roggio has details:

The hunter-killer team tracking Mohibullah had received “multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens” on his location, and found the Taliban unit in a wooded area of Chak after “an exhaustive manhunt.” The special operations team then called in an airstrike to kill the Taliban fighters. ISAF said Mohibullah and his fighters “were attempting to flee the country,” presumably to Pakistan, “in order to avoid capture.”

Curiously, the military still won’t confirm that it was enemy fire that brought the chopper down. All they’re willing to say right now is that, if it was enemy fire, the weapon involved wasn’t anything more sophisticated than an RPG and that the resulting crash was utterly devastating, requiring four days to gather all the wreckage and remains. The death toll, incidentally, remains at 38, but late word tonight from the military is that 17 of the men aboard were SEALs, not 22 as was originally reported. Why were so many men, and so many SEALs especially, jammed into a single Chinook? Good question. Special forces troops are wondering the same thing:

They also questioned whether the quickly assembled mission was necessary to rescue a band of Army Rangers reportedly under fire from Taliban militants.

“I squarely blame whoever planned and authorized the mission for the deaths,” said a Special Forces soldier who served in Afghanistan.

“It was simply uncalled for unless Rangers were being overrun and the ground situation required this much operational risk.”

Special operations sources also told The Washington Times that it would have been better to send two helicopters instead of one to reduce risks…

“There may have been an operational reason not to spread them out over two, [but] I just don’t know what that would be.”

Any military readers care to offer a theory? Is it possible that only one Chinook would have been ready to fly, for whatever reason, and that in their haste to get there and reinforce the Rangers the SEALs were forced to pile into one?

A senior Afghan official told the AFP a few days ago that this was in fact a trap set by a Taliban commander — and aided by “four Pakistanis” — to avenge the Bin Laden killing. We were kicking around that possibility within hours of the news breaking on Saturday, but I don’t understand the logistics of it. How did it work, exactly? They ambushed the Rangers, at great personal risk to themselves, and pinned them down in hopes that they’d (a) call for reinforcements, (b) that those reinforcements would be comprised of SEALs, ideally from Team 6, and (c) that they’d somehow manage to take down a Chinook armed with nothing more advanced than an RPG? That plan would take a mind-boggling amount of luck to come off — and yet it came off perfectly. I’ve had smart people who know what they’re talking about tell me that this was simply a lucky shot, but they’d have to have been fantastically, astronomically lucky to have it be a lucky shot in the context of a trap deliberately set for the SEALs. The military, in fact, says it has no information to support the Afghan official’s claim and the Taliban itself hasn’t taken credit for what would be one of their biggest propaganda victories of the war. Very curious.

The remains of the fallen troops returned to the U.S. yesterday, and while the Pentagon promised there would be no photos at Dover, the White House managed to upload this one of Obama into their Flickr account. Go figure. Exit quotation: “Doug Wilson, head of public affairs at the Pentagon, said the department did not know the White House photographer was present and had no idea a photo of the event was being released until it became public.”