WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. military investigation has found American personnel were not at fault when the Taliban shot down a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan in August, killing all 30 Americans and eight Afghans on board, U.S. defense officials told Reuters on Wednesday.
The investigation into the single deadliest incident involving American forces in the decade-old Afghan war still has not been made public and U.S. officials spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. Families of the victims were still being briefed on the results of the probe, they said.
The investigation confirmed that, on August 6, a Taliban-fired rocket-propelled grenade downed the CH-47 helicopter. Most of Americans killed were elite Navy SEALs.
The officials said no U.S. personnel would be punished as a result of the investigation, no equipment was found to have malfunctioned and the mission itself -- to go after a Taliban target -- was considered sound.
One U.S. defense official described it as a "tragic incident in the middle of a war zone."
"Even the best executed mission in a conflict can cost lives and that is what we saw," a second U.S. defense official said.
The deaths of so many Americans resonated at home in a way that other battlefield incidents had not, with relatives, pastors and friends of the fallen appearing in U.S. media, praising the troops fighting a largely unpopular war that has been overshadowed by concerns about the U.S. economy.
The crash initially triggered speculation that perhaps the mission had not required putting the lives of Navy SEALs at risk or that the slow-moving CH-47 Chinook was not the appropriate aircraft to take them on a mission to a remote valley southwest of Kabul.
Sources familiar with special operations missions had noted that the team could have traveled in a MH-47 helicopter, which is specially equipped for such missions.
But the investigation, led by Army Brigadier General Jeffrey Colt, did not uncover any wrongdoing, the officials said.
Shortly after the incident, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, defended the decision to send in the elite team, saying it was necessary to chase militants who were escaping an ongoing operation that had targeted an important Taliban leader.
He said NATO-led forces later killed the Taliban militants responsible for shooting down the helicopter.
Editing by Bill Trott and Christopher Wilson