U.S.: Taliban who down helicopter killed

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KABUL, Afghanistan -- An airstrike by international forces has killed the Taliban insurgents responsible for the downing of a U.S. helicopter this weekend in which 38 U.S. and Afghan troops died, the military claimed Wednesday. The militant who launched the fatal rocket-propelled grenade was among those killed.

The claim of success comes amid fears that as U.S. troops begin to leave Afghanistan, the country is far from stable and remains deadly for those forces who remain. As U.S. troops thin out, special operations forces like those who died in Saturday's helicopter crash are likely to make up a greater part of the American force in Afghanistan.

F-16 fighter jets killed the insurgents responsible on Monday, according to the top American commander in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Gen. John Allen.

The military provided few details to back up the claim, but Allen said he was confident the airstrike killed fewer than 10 insurgents involved in the attack on the U.S. Chinook helicopter.

"All of these operations generate intelligence," Allen said, including about those who fled the site of the crash.

"We tracked them as we would in the aftermath of any operation, and we dealt with them with a kinetic strike, and in the aftermath of that we have achieved certainty that they, in fact, were killed in that strike," Allen said. He spoke by video from his Kabul headquarters.

In a separate statement, the military said the strike killed a Taliban leader and the insurgent who fired the rocket-propelled grenade at the helicopter. That statement also cited intelligence gathered on the ground. It did not provide further details.

"This does not ease our loss, but we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy," Allen said.

The crash was the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the nearly 10-year Afghan war.

The military is still seeking the top insurgent leader that troops were going after in Saturday's mission, Allen said.

Allen defended the decision to send in the Chinook loaded with special operations forces to aid Army Rangers pursuing insurgents in a dangerous region of eastern Afghanistan.

"The fact that we lost this aircraft is not . . . a decision point as to whether we'll use this aircraft in the future," Allen said. "It's not uncommon at all to use this aircraft on our special missions."

According to officials, the team included 17 SEALs, five Navy special operations troops who support the SEALs, three Air Force airmen, a five-member Army air crew and a military dog, along with seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter.

Allen agreed that as U.S. troops begin to pull out of Afghanistan, such counterterrorism missions -- often by special operations forces -- will increase and become prominent.

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