American special operators in Afghanistan will not get a break or standdown in the aftermath of the helicopter crash that claimed 38 lives, of whom 25 were special operators, a top Pentagon spokesman said Monday. Although the deaths could represent a loss of as much as 10 percent of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group -- the blackest-black unit that also killed Osama bin Laden earlier this year -- its assignments will continue even as its SEALs grieve.
"In the immediate aftermath, they press on with the mission," Lapan said. "It's an unfortunate part of the business we’re in -- we take casualties. But our folks are well trained to realize that they can’t let the loss of heir comrades deter them from the mission, and especially because this a very dangerous undertaking, you can’t afford to lose your focus and make the situation worse. Specifically, in the special operations community, they know very well how to soldier on.”
Lapan said that it's possible the results of the multiple investigations in to Saturday's crash may result in some changes to the SEALs' 'tactics, techniques and procedures,' as they're known, but if so, those details almost certainly will never see the light of day.
The grim consensus forming around the loss of the CH-47 Chinook is that insurgent fighters in the Tangi Valley, in Wardak province, may have basically gotten lucky: As the helo approached an area where other American special operators were in contact with bad guys, an insurgent fired an unguided RPG round that brought it down. According to the International Security Assistance Force, the team on the ground -- believed to be Army special operators -- broke away from its firefight and moved to defend the crash site, but there was nothing to be done.
Although Pentagon officials have cautioned against drawing conclusions about Saturday's crash before all the facts are in, it does bring back tough memories of similar incidents in the Afghan war. In 2005, when a small team of SEALs came under fire in Afghanistan, their comrades also piled into a Chinook and charged to their aid -- but that helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade and all aboard were killed. Just as with Saturday's crash, Afghans claimed they had set a trap for the Americans, putting a small team in danger to draw out more Americans and yield a bigger target.
Does that mean Saturday's losses could have been prevented? No, but it confirms that no matter how well you try to learn past lessons in war, it doesn't change the fact that in battle, anything can happen.