Insurgents shot down a U.S. military helicopter in eastern Afghanistan early Saturday, killing 30 Americans, most of them belonging to the same Navy SEALs unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, U.S. officials said.
It was the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-old war against the Taliban.
The downing of the CH-47 Chinook, in which seven Afghan commandos also were killed, was a stinging blow as the U.S.-led coalition begins to draw down thousands of combat troops fighting what has become an increasingly costly and unpopular war.
The 22 SEAL personnel killed in the crash were part of the elite, classified unit known by its former names of Naval Special Warfare Development Group and SEAL Team 6, officials said. Other commandos from that team conducted the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed bin Laden in May.
Special operations forces, including the SEALs and others, have been at the forefront in the stepped-up strategy of taking out key insurgent leaders in targeted raids.
The Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter with a rocket while it was taking part in a raid on a house where insurgents were gathered in the province of Wardak overnight. Wreckage of the craft was strewn across the crash site, a Taliban spokesman said.
A senior U.S. administration official in Washington said it appeared the craft had been shot down. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the crash is still being investigated.
"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," President Barack Obama said in a statement, adding that his thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those who perished.
The U.S.-led coalition said in a statement that 30 American service members, a civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos were killed.
A current U.S. official and a former U.S. official said the Americans included 22 SEALs, three Air Force air controllers and a dog handler and his dog. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because military officials were still notifying the families of the dead.
"The last thing they would have wanted is for their deaths to be used as a reason to pull out."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai offered his condolences to the American and Afghan troops killed in the crash.
The deaths bring to 365 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan and 42 this month.
The overnight raid took place in the Tangi Joy Zarin area of Wardak's Sayd Abad district, about 60 miles southwest of Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that the helicopter was involved in an assault on a house where insurgent fighters were gathering. During the battle, the fighters shot down the helicopter with a rocket, he said.
A villager in the area where the helicopter went down told McClatchy Newspapers that he heard rocket fire. He said he later saw the helicopter burning in an orchard about a half-mile from his home.
"Smoke was rising from the helicopter," Mansour Majab said.
Majab said that night raids by U.S.-led forces happen frequently. "Every night the helicopters are flying over our house," he said.
The death toll surpasses the previous 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 service members were killed while trying to rescue Lt. Michael Murphy of Patchogue and his team of Navy SEALs. Murphy and two other SEALS died as well.
From April to July this year, special operations raids captured 2,941 insurgents and killed 834, twice as many as those killed or captured in the same three-month period of last year, according to NATO.
With Kery Murakami
Deadliest military crashes in Afghanistan War
MARCH 4, 2002 U.S. Chinook helicopter is shot down in eastern Afghanistan, killing seven American troops.
APRIL 6, 2005 U.S. Chinook helicopter crashes in a sandstorm near eastern Ghazni, killing 15 American troops and three civilian contractors.
AUG. 16, 2005 Spanish helicopter crashes near the western city of Herat, killing 17 Spanish soldiers.
MAY 5, 2006 U.S. Chinook helicopter crashes while attempting a night landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. soldiers.
SEPT. 2, 2006 British Nimrod aircraft crashes near Kandahar in the south, killing 14 crew members.
FEB. 18, 2007 U.S. Chinook carrying 22 U.S. soldiers crashes in southern Zabul province, killing eight and injuring 14.
MAY 30, 2007 U.S. Chinook crashes while under fire in southern Helmand, killing one British, one Canadian and five U.S. troops.
SEPT. 21, 2010 U.S. Army Blackhawk crashes in southern Zabul province, killing nine troops on board, including four Navy SEALs.
SATURDAY A CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashes in eastern Wardak province, killing 30 U.S. special operation troops and seven Afghan commandos.