Obama Salutes Troops Dead in Afghan Chopper Crash

U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed the "extraordinary sacrifices" made by the 31 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan when, according to local officials, the Taliban shot down their helicopter.

Obama also paid tribute to the seven Afghan soldiers killed during an anti-Taliban operation late Friday when a rocket fired by the insurgents struck their Chinook helicopter in Wardak province, southwest of the capital Kabul.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan," Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.

"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."

"We will draw inspiration from their lives, and continue the work of securing our country and standing up for the values that they embodied," he said.

The U.S. president added: "We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country."

The Afghan army commander for the region where the incident took place and a spokesman for Wardak province both confirmed that the helicopter was shot down by Taliban insurgents.

"The U.S. chopper that crashed last night was shot down by the Taliban as it was taking off," said the provincial spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid. "A rocket fired by the insurgents hit it and completely destroyed it."

The death toll was given in a statement from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office and was not immediately confirmed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Twenty-five of the dead were U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. television network ABC News reported. The Pentagon declined to comment on the cause or number of deaths.

The strike was by far the worst to hit foreign troops since American and other international forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Source: Agence France Presse

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