Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bin Laden hit squad killed in Afghanistan

Former defence intelligence official, Anthony Tucker-Jones, reports on how US Special Forces losses in Afghanistan are a propaganda coup for al-Qaeda

To al-Qaeda there will be a sense of poetic justice that 20 of the 38 men killed in the helicopter that came down in Afghanistan on 5 August were part of the same US Navy SEALs (sea-air-land) Special Forces unit that killed Osama bin Laden.

Only last week a US Special Forces source claimed that the 23 SEALs from Team Six's Red Squadron were instructed from the very start that the bin Laden operation was 'shoot to kill'.

In the event bin Laden received a double tap (a shot to the chest, then a shot to the head) in Abbotttabad, Pakistan on 1 May. The Pentagon stated the plan had been to capture him if possible.

Reportedly using the ubiquitous Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) the Taliban claim to have shot down a Chinook helicopter near Jaw-e-Mekh Zareen, in the Tangi valley, Wardak province killing 31 US troops and seven Afghan soldiers.

According to the Pentagon the SEAL squadron lost in Afghanistan although part of Team Six was not the same one that conducted the Abbottabad mission. If it were this would hand al-Qaeda a major propaganda coup and avenge their leader.

America and NATO's reliance on helicopters in Afghanistan means such a incident was only a matter of time. Whilst this is the single worst helicopter loss involving NATO forces it is certainly not the first. Nor is it the first time the SEALs have suffered such heavy casualties on covert Ops in Afghanistan.

Operation Red wing, conducted in the mountains near Asabad in Kunar province went horribly wrong on 28 June 2005. An extraction team of eight SEALs, from Team Ten and eight Green Berets were lost when their MH-47D Chinook was ambushed. From the four man SEAL team they had been sent to rescue only one was subsequently saved.

One of the very first helicopter losses was a US Army CH-47 Chinook, which crash-landed in eastern Afghanistan on 9 January 2001. During Operation Anaconda on 2 March 2002 two Apache attack helicopters were damaged by RPG rounds, two others were seriously damaged by small arms and a UH-60 was forced to land.

During the same operation two MH-47 carrying SEALs were ambushed. Tragically an RPG round cut the door gunner's tether, two more rounds struck the aircraft and a Petty Officer fell out as he tried to secure the gunner. The damaged MH-47 eventually had to be abandoned. Two additional MH-47s with a rescue force returned to the same landing zone and suffered another helicopter disabled.

As the Taliban's only successes against helicopters are with RPGs, which have an effective range of about 500 yards, it was not long before they were actively seeking Surface-to-Air missiles (SAMs). Washington moved to head off this threat by offering a bounty of $40,000 per system.

Before the coalition attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan both countries were equipped with the Soviet era Strela-2/SA-7 SAM and subsequently quantities fell into insurgents hands, but they always missed their targets. Following the Coalition intervention in Afghanistan some 5,600 shoulder fired missiles were captured, many though ended up on the black market.

The British Special Boat Service operating in Afghanistan's Nimroz province, seized trucks coming over the Iranian border carrying SA-7 in April 2007.

Despite this the Taliban attempted to bring down an American C-130 Hercules over Nimroz, using an SA-7 of Soviet or Chinese origin on 22 July 2007 brought in from Iran. Intelligence indicated that the Iranians were acting as a conduit for Chinese missiles after it was alleged the Chinese HN-5 had been discovered in Taliban hands.

This was the first time the Taliban sought to take down a coalition aircraft using a SAM. On this occasion the Hercules' pilots took evasive action and dropped flares to successfully escape destruction.

This latest attack allegedly using RPGs seems to indicate just how successful Washington has been in keeping SAMs out of Afghanistan.

Nonetheless for US SOCOM – Special Operations Command – the loss of so many experienced SEALs is a disaster. It represents their heaviest losses since the Second World War.

It will be a particular blow for the personnel of Naval Special Warfare Command's Special Warfare Group Two based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base.

Both the Taliban and al-Qaeda will chalk this up as a major victory.


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