Monday, August 8, 2011

U.S. official: Taliban still on run

The downing of a NATO helicopter Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, killing 30 U.S. special operations troops and eight Afghans, does not imply that there is new Taliban momentum, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

"It's a combat incident," said the spokesman, Marine Col. David Lapan. "We take casualties. This one

incident does not represent any kind of watershed or trend."

"As we have said, the Taliban was going to come back hard. They were not going to take the losses they have suffered over the last year lightly. They are going to try and inflict casualties," he said. "We still have the Taliban on the run."

The U.S. special operations community will absorb the loss and knows how to "soldier on," Lapan said.

The retiring head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, Adm. Eric Olson, said Monday at his change-of-command ceremony that personnel will press on.

The 30 dead included 22 members of the U.S. Navy SEAL commando force.

Lapan said the Pentagon will release the casualty list 24 hours after the final notification of next of kin. In a statement released after Lapan's briefing, a Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, said that because of the catastrophic nature of the crash, bodies will not be formally identified until they are returned to the military mortuary today at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

"Because the remains are unidentified at this point, next-of-kin are not in a position to grant approval for media access to the dignified transfer," Campbell said. "Therefore, in accordance with DoD policy, no media coverage of the arrival and dignified transfer is permitted. Families will, however, be given the opportunity to be present for the arrival."

Speaking at Olson's ceremony at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the home of the Special Operations Command, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the attack would not derail U.S. attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaida.

"We will send a strong message of American resolve," Panetta said. "From the tragedy we will draw inspiration to carry on the fight and continue to hunt down those who would do us harm."

Olson, a SEAL, will be succeeded as Special Operations Command leader by another SEAL, Adm. William McRaven, who commanded the raid that killed bin Laden.

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