By Cheryl Pellerin
WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2011 - Senior U.S. leaders today extended condolences to the families of American and Afghan forces lost in an International Security Assistance Force helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan.
Thirty ISAF service members, a civilian interpreter and seven Afghan commandos were killed when a coalition CH-47 Chinook crashed earlier today, ISAF Joint Command officials said in a news release. All of the ISAF service members on board were from the United States.
The incident, officials said, represents the highest number of U.S. forces killed during a single event in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
An investigation is under way to determine the exact cause of the crash, officials added, noting that additional details will be provided as they become available.
In the wake of the crash, senior leaders issued statements to offer their condolences to the service members' loved ones.
"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the Americans who were lost earlier today in Afghanistan," President Barack Obama said. "Their deaths are a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices made by the men and women of our military and their families, including all who have served in Afghanistan.
"We also mourn the Afghans who died alongside our troops in pursuit of a more peaceful and hopeful future for their country," the president added.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta also expressed his sorrow for the loss.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of many outstanding Americans in uniform and of their Afghan counterparts earlier today in Afghanistan," he said. "Their courage was exemplary, as was their determination to make this a safer world for their countries and for their fellow citizens.
"We will stay the course to complete that mission, for which they and all who have served and lost their lives in Afghanistan have made the ultimate sacrifice," he continued. "They and their families are in my thoughts, in my prayers and in my heart."
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, ISAF commander, added his condolences.
"No words describe the sorrow we feel in the wake of this tragic loss," the general said. "All of those killed in this operation were true heroes who had already given so much in the defense of freedom. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who are now waiting for their loved ones to return home," he continued. "We will do everything in our power to support them in this time of need.
The United States will draw inspiration from the lives of those who were lost, Obama said, and continue the work of securing the country and standing up for the values they embodied.
"At this difficult hour," the president added, "all Americans are united in support of our men and women in uniform who serve so that we can live in freedom and security."
Leon E. Panetta
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans