By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10, 2011 – Coalition forces used a precision airstrike to kill Taliban insurgents involved in the Aug. 6 downing of the helicopter carrying 30 U.S. service members and eight Afghans, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan said today.
In a briefing from his headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen told Pentagon reporters the action was a continuation of the original mission to dismantle the leadership of an enemy network in Wardak province’s Tangi Valley.
“This does not ease our loss,” Allen said. “But we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy.”
Near midnight on Aug. 8, the general said, coalition forces called in a precision airstrike with F-16s over the Chak district of Wardak province. According to details International Security Assistance Force officials released today, the strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah and the insurgent who fired the shot -- which ISAF assessed to be a rocket-propelled grenade, Allen said -- associated with the Aug. 6 helicopter crash.
Mohibullah was a key facilitator in an insurgent attack cell led by Din Mohammad, a Taliban leader killed in a previous special operations mission, ISAF officials said. As a leader in Mohammad’s network in the Tangi Valley, Mohibullah had as many as 12 Taliban fighters under his command, including potential suicide bombers.
Special operations forces received several intelligence leads and tips from local civilians and after an exhaustive manhunt, ISAF officials said, they located Mohibullah and the shooter as they were trying to flee the country.
The security force located and followed the insurgents to a wooded area in the Chak district. After making sure no civilians were in the area, the force called for the airstrike that killed Mohibullah, the shooter and several Taliban associates.
On the night of the deadly helicopter crash, the inbound CH-47 carried special operations forces in pursuit of insurgents from Mohammad’s network who were fleeing from an engagement in which six militants already had been killed, ISAF officials said.
Allen said ISAF does not yet know if enemy fire was the sole reason for the helicopter crash, but on its approach, the aircraft encountered small-arms fire from several insurgent locations. An investigation into the crash and its causes began yesterday when Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, appointed Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Colt as lead investigator.
Questions to be asked, Allen said, will include “What was the cause of the crash?” and “What lessons can be learned as a result of that cause?”
The answers, he said, ultimately will feed back into the mission evaluation process to improve future missions.
The crash was a tragic incident in a very difficult military campaign, Allen said. “However,” he added, “it was a singular incident in a broader conflict in which we are making important strides and considerable progress.”
Coalition forces face challenges ahead and tough fights in the days to come, the general said, but all across Afghanistan the insurgents are losing.
“They're losing territory. They're losing leadership. They're losing weapons and supplies. They're losing public support,” Allen said.
Villages that seek to embrace Afghan local police in the Village Stability Operations program are mobilizing their communities for their own security, he added.
“That's not widely understood [or] … widely covered,” Allen said. “But that's a great example of where the Taliban are losing ground and … influence because they can no longer get inside the population of these areas.”
Across Afghanistan, he added, the insurgents are losing resolve and the will to fight.
“They face relentless pressure from coalition and, increasingly, Afghan forces,” he said.
Reintegration of former insurgents into Afghan society also is succeeding, Allen said. The effort is an Afghan program supported by coalition forces that across Afghanistan is beginning to see Taliban foot soldiers ultimately come forward and seek to rejoin society, becoming members of their villages, he said.
Allen said more than 2,300 people have reintegrated so far.
Success, the general said, “is a function of security operations. It's a function of the establishment of Afghan local police. It's a function of the establishment of credible governance [and] economic opportunity.”
The numbers of former Taliban fighters rejoining society is an indication that the insurgents are losing, Allen added. “We're not declaring victory, certainly,” the general said. “We recognize that there are going to be long days ahead and some pretty heavy lifts.”
But progress also is visible in other areas, Allen said. In July, he noted, the transition of security responsibility began to the Afghan government and Afghan forces.
“Our military is working hand in hand with our civilian partners to secure the gains we have made by strengthening the Afghan government and by advancing economic opportunity,” Allen added.
Afghan forces have made immense strides in increasing their professionalism and effectiveness, he said.
“By the time our additional 23,000 troops come out [of Afghanistan] by the end of September of next year, we'll have seen on the order of 70,000 Afghan national security forces come onto the field,” Allen said. “So it's a trade-off in terms of the Afghans who are joining us in the battle space with the forces that will be coming down.”
Allen said the Afghan forces are increasingly out in front, securing territory, safeguarding populations and, when necessary, fighting and dying for their country and their countrymen.
“We lost eight Afghans in this crash -- brave Afghans -- and we pay tribute as well to their service and to their sacrifice,” the general said.
Allen said he’s spoken with coalition and U.S. troops in the four corners of Afghanistan and found them to be steadfast in their commitment to the mission.
“We remember why we're here in the first place,” he said, “and we know what is at stake.”
Allen said coalition forces intend to continue to work very hard in the south throughout the current fighting season and well into the fall and beyond.
“We're going to fight all winter,” the general said. “We're going to attempt to disrupt the enemy safe havens throughout the winter -- the opportunity for him to rest and refit.”
In spring and summer 2012, he said, “we will continue to disrupt the enemy and then spend a particular amount of attention in the east.”
As the counterinsurgency campaign continues in Afghanistan, Allen said, so will counterterrorism operations such as the one that ended with the CH-47 crash.
“As our surface area decreases in Afghanistan, the role of counterterrorism operations -- and in particular these kinds of special missions -- will become prominent,” he said. “With that as an anticipated outcome, we will pursue special operations on a regular basis, both now and for the foreseeable future. And it will be an adjunct and a component of the larger counterinsurgency campaign.”
Whether they’re fighting in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations, troops on the battlefield in Afghanistan are committed to succeed, Allen said.
“They have my full and complete support, and they know that they have the support of a grateful nation that stands squarely behind them,” the general added.