Image: Children stand near Chinook wreckage
Mohammad Nasir  /  AP
Afghan children stand near the wreckage of the Chinook CH-47 at Tangi Valley in Wardak province some 60 miles southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 11. Witnesses say the helicopter burst into flames before hitting the ground, leaving wreckage scattered on both sides of a river.
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updated 8/11/2011 3:01:14 PM ET 2011-08-11T19:01:14

Afghan children retrieved souvenir-sized pieces of a helicopter shot down by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan where witnesses on Thursday described seeing the chopper burst into flames and break apart before falling from the sky, killing 30 U.S. troops and eight Afghans.

Coalition forces finished recovering the victims' remains and big sections of the wreckage. Yet small, twisted pieces of the Chinook CH-47 remain scattered on both sides of a slow-flowing river in Wardak province where it crashed before dawn Saturday.

PhotoBlog: Remains of Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan

Farhad, a local resident, told Associated Press Television News that the helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade fired from a nearby knoll as it was preparing to land.

"As soon as it was hit, it started burning," he said, standing in a field still littered with small pieces of the chopper, including a part of a scorched rifle stamped "Made in Germany" and a piece of charred paper with typewritten first aid instructions.

"After it started burning, it crashed. It came down in three pieces," he added. "We could see it burning from our homes."

Many of the victims' bodies were badly mangled and burned, said Farhad, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Story: Pentagon names 30 Americans killed in downed Afghan chopper

The crash about 60 miles southwest of Kabul was the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the nearly 10-year Afghan war.

The crash comes amid fears that the country is far from stable even though U.S. and NATO forces have begun to leave Afghanistan. U.S. military officials have tried to counter those fears, saying that while the downing of the Chinook was a tragic setback, one crash will not determine the course of the war.

The victims included 17 members of the elite Navy SEALs, five Naval Special Warfare personnel who support the SEALs, three Air Force Special Operations personnel, an Army helicopter crew of five, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter.

Debris burning on both sides of river
Gul Agha, another resident of Tangi Valley, also said that after the helicopter crashed, parts were burning on either side of the Tangi River. Some of the debris also ended up on a nearby hillside, he said.

"When the helicopter came at night, the Taliban were hiding in the bushes around the area," he said.

He said coalition forces worked several days to remove victims' remains. Then they blew up sections of the helicopter into smaller pieces, loaded them on trucks and took them from the site, he said.

Image: Wreckage of Chinook
Mohammad Nasir  /  AP
Wreckage of the Chinook helicopter is seen at the site of crash in Wardak province, Thursday, Aug. 11.

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said Wednesday that F-16 fighter jets killed the insurgents responsible for the crash. But the military provided few details to back up the claim.

The U.S.-led coalition has also said the helicopter was apparently shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. But Allen said the military will investigate whether other causes contributed to the crash.

Fear of retribution
Alam Gul, chief of the local council in Sayd Abad district where the crash occurred, said many villagers were up at the time because it is the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast during the day, break fast in the evening and then get up and eat again around 2 a.m. for sustenance to make it through the day.

He said people in the Tangi Valley worry that the U.S. will take revenge and bomb their villages. He insisted that no major Taliban figures were living or hiding out in the area, where many locals don't side with the U.S.-led coalition or the Afghan government.

"The foreigners are guests, but what has changed in 10 years?" Gul said residents ask. "Yes, you are our guests, but you have done a lot of bad things."

He said frequent night raids in and around his district have angered local residents, who are offended by knocks on their doors in the middle of the night when families are sleeping.

Coalition forces left a combat outpost in Tangi, less than a mile from the crash site, in the spring. They took their expensive equipment, but left other items, like freezers, Gul said. The Taliban retrieved the items and had a yard sale, he said. Afghans from the surrounding area came to shop. Then, instead of occupying the outpost, Gul said the Taliban booby-trapped it with bombs.

In other violence in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb in the south killed five NATO troops Thursday, the U.S.-led coalition said. Another service member died Wednesday in a roadside bomb and five Afghan policemen were killed when their checkpoint was attacked by Taliban insurgents, the coalition and Afghan police said.

Story: Pentagon: Five US troops killed in Afghanistan

The latest deaths, which raised to 374 the number of international forces killed so far this year, underscored the tenuous nature of the war.

___

Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 41 Americans killed this week in Afghanistan

  1. Transcript of: 41 Americans killed this week in Afghanistan

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: The terrible price being paid for America 's war in Afghanistan got even higher today. Six more Americans were killed, in addition to the 30 shot down in that Chinook helicopter over the weekend. In all, 41 Americans have died in Afghanistan just this week, the single worst week of our nation's longest war . Word of these latest deaths came just as the Pentagon was releasing the names of those killed in that chopper shootdown. NBC 's chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel with us tonight from Kabul . Richard , good evening.

    RICHARD ENGEL reporting: Good evening, Brian . There's been so much talk recently about Navy SEALs , but today it was Army soldiers who were killed in what appears to be a spike in the violence. This is where the single deadliest attack in the Afghan War took place, a remote valley southwest of Kabul . A crater and pieces of a Chinook transport helicopter are the only traces of the 30 Americans who lost their lives here. And just before 9 AM today, 300 miles to the south, five more American troops were killed by a roadside bomb and small arms fire. All week and across the nation, Americans have been mourning. Long embraces in Nebraska , wooden crosses by a road in Dover , Delaware . And in Virginia Beach , friends lined up to honor Navy SEAL Kevin Houston , who was laid to rest today, one of at least 41 American troops killed so far this week. But why?

    Colonel JACK JACOBS, Retired (NBC News Military Analyst): If our objective was to have a centrally governed Afghanistan , we've lost the war.

    ENGEL: The White House does not agree and says a withdrawal is already under way. The US military says it is weakening the Taliban .

    Unidentified Man:

    ENGEL: But recent Internet videos show the militants appearing organized in large numbers and well armed. Some analysts say the United States needs to decide what the goal really is.

    Col. JACOBS: Somebody in the military chain of command needs to convince the president that leaving large numbers of conventional troops inside Afghanistan is accomplishing absolutely nothing, since what we're really trying to do is to chop the Taliban and al-Qaeda up into little pieces using unconventional means.

    ENGEL: And the costs are mounting.

    Mr. BRIAN FISHMAN (New America Foundation): I worry that over the long run, even after we withdraw troops, we will continue to have to pump in tens of billions of dollars a year in order to keep the Afghan government stable.

    ENGEL: After one of the worst weeks in a decade of war. But regardless, Brian , of the debate about the war, what can't be lost tonight is that so many American military families are mourning.

    WILLIAMS: Richard , I talked to one veteran commander -- speaking of the mission that was shot down over the weekend -- who said an estimated six to 10 of those a day go on, either attacks or extraction using some of our very best in Chinook helicopters going in and hopefully coming out. Any evidence that number has changed, is changing or will change?

    ENGEL: No evidence that I've been able to see. Chinooks are used all the time. And when they are used at night, generally you can't see them. They come in without any of the lights on, and this was a very lucky shot, I was told, by the Taliban . Chinooks are big, they are slow, but with their lights out, they are pretty stealth as well.

    WILLIAMS: They are certainly ubiquitous in both of these wars. Richard Engel in Kabul , Afghanistan for us tonight. Richard , thanks.

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