KABUL // The downing of a US helicopter in which 38 people, including 30 US Special Operations troops, were killed was a propaganda coup for the Taliban-led insurgency and boosts the growing perception that the Taliban are gaining strength as the war drags on.
"This entire incident benefits the Taliban," said Helaluddin Helal, a former Afghan general under the Soviet-backed regime in the 1980s. "The conditions, the type of helicopter, who was killed — all of this means a big achievement for them."
Mangal Sherzad, a professor at Nangahar University in in eastern Afghanistan, said: "The Taliban are very successful in planning these operations, the operations that will weaken the US and Afghan forces psychologically "The helicopter crash, I believe it will have a negative effect on the morale of foreign forces here."
Saturday marked the single deadliest day for coalition troops since the war began 10 years ago, bringing the US-led coalition death toll to 365 this year.
"That night the Americans wanted to attack our mujahideen, and we targeted the helicopter with a weapon that is similar to an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. "And we are trying to get more of this weapon."
Mr Mujahid would not specify which weapon the Taliban used to bring down the Chinook helicopter carrying Navy Seals from the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden. But history reminds that during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was the surface-to-air Stinger missiles supplied by the US to anti-Soviet fighters and fired at Russian choppers that finally crippled the Red Army here.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta vowed the US would "stay the course" in Afghanistan despite the latest loss. There are about 140,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan. All of the foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.
The CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter was reportedly shot down shortly after takeoff from a village in the Sayd Abad district of Wardak province, which is near Kabul.
Bordering Logar province to the east and Ghazni province to the south, both of which boast high levels of insurgent activity, Sayd Abad has long been a troubled district with a heavy Taliban presence.
US Special Operations Forces were said to have been carrying out a raid on an insurgent hideout Friday in the Tangi Valley area in the village of Deh Zarin.
Mr Mujahid said the raid sparked an hours-long gun battle during which eight Taliban were killed. Towards the end of the battle, a Taliban fighter shot the helicopter, he said.
Locals who were at the scene of the crash said the helicopter went down in a dry riverbed near Deh Zahrin.
The river is flanked by forested hills and mountains, making the large, hovering aircraft an easy target for someone positioned high with an RPG launcher, Gen Helal said.
"You cannot target a helicopter in a flat area," Gen Helal said. "You must be in the mountains, at a high-level, in order to hit your target."
A member of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) in Wardak, who saw the destroyed chopper but wished to remain anonymous, said the aircraft had been shot in the nose.
Some pieces of the helicopter were strewn about the crash site, but foreign troops had returned to retrieve the largest debris, the local police said.
Security in Wardak, south-west of Kabul and a southern gateway to the Afghan capital, has deteriorated sharply over the past few years.
Insurgents, fighters from Pakistan and militants loyal to former jihadist commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have infiltrated the province, officials say.
"The situation in Wardak is worse than it was last year, and there are many districts where the security forces can't go without coming under attack," Abdul Ahmad Durrani, a member of parliament from Wardak, said.
"The presence of the foreign forces has increased in Wardak, but there is still no positive effect.".
Of the US helicopter downing, he said: "This is good news for the Taliban, They will be happy, and congratulating each other. "Because Wardak is strategic. It is important for both sides because it is so close to Kabul."
Earlier this year, the US army withdrew from its combat outpost in the Tangi Valley.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press