The five U.S. soldiers killed Tuesday in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that crashed in southern Afghanistan were assigned to the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, which is based at Hunter Army Airfield, said Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, 3rd Infantry Division commander and commanding general of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command-South.
In a webcast interview with the Pentagon Press Corps on Wednesday, Abrams began his remarks by expressing his condolences to the families of the 3rd ID soldiers who were killed in the crash as well as the family of Staff Sgt. Rex L. Schad. Schad, who had served with the 3rd ID’s 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, and Capt. Andrew Pedersen-Keel were killed Monday when an Afghan police officer turned his weapon on U.S. and Afghan soldiers. Pedersen-Keel was a Special Forces soldier assigned to 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C.
“There is an ongoing investigation of the crash,” Abrams said. “What I can tell you is they were conducting routine night-goggles training in a local training area. The recovery team did a magnificent job covering the aircraft and our fallen heroes.”
According to a statement released by the Pentagon through Reuters on Tuesday, there was no report of enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash. The statement also noted that helicopter crashes are “not uncommon” in Afghanistan, and enemy forces often claim to have shot down the aircraft.
Before the Pentagon briefing, Abrams tweeted that Tuesday was a “tough day” for the Marne Division and asked for prayers for their deployed soldiers.
“(We had a) ramp ceremony last night (at 11 p.m.) for our five fallen heroes from (Task Force) Falcon,” Abrams said in another tweet. “(There was a) huge crowd there to bid farewell to their comrades.”
As of Thursday, the Pentagon had not yet released the names of the soldiers killed in Tuesday’s crash.
Abrams told the Pentagon Press Corps that Regional Command-South would continue to advise and assist its Afghan partners, and repeated a slogan from three years ago: Shoulder to shoulder. He said there now are more than 52,000 Afghan security forces working with American and allied forces. He said Afghan forces are conducting more than 3,000 independent operations each week.
He also noted there has been what he called significant increases in Afghan forces’ planning capabilities as well as increased air-mobile capability, fire support and security operations. He talked about the literacy program conducted by U.S. forces to help Afghan security personnel develop reading and writing skills. Abrams said he is confident the Afghan forces will be capable of providing security for their own country by 2014, which is when U.S. forces currently are scheduled to leave.
Before answering specific questions about Tuesday’s helicopter crash and preparations for the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, the general quoted a local proverb.
“The mountain may be high, but there’s still a path to the top,” Abrams said.