Over the weekend, a US CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. The loss of 30 US soldiers and 8 Afghans made this the deadliest helicopter crash of the war.
A news item from Strategy Page, about a helicopter shootdown from a couple of weeks ago, provides some much needed perspective on this weekend’s incident:
In a rare incident, an American Ch-47 helicopter was hit by an RPG rocket and forced to crash land near a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan. Two of the twenty people on board were slightly wounded (by RPG fragments). The RPG is a rocket launcher, and the rockets are unguided. Hitting anything as large as a helicopter, at more than a hundred meters, is mainly a matter of luck.
This is the 17th helicopter to be brought down by hostile fire in the last ten years in Afghanistan. Another 84 have crashed for non-combat reasons. In Iraq, 46 helicopters were brought down by enemy fire (in addition to 76 that crashed for non-combat reasons) during seven years of much heavier combat.
That’s a grand total of 224 lost choppers for both Afghanistan and Iraq (from all causes, and most not by enemy action). In contrast, the total US helicopter losses in Vietnam were 5,498. That’s right; the US lost more than 20 times the number of helicopters in Vietnam – that’s more than an order of magnitude more.
So when people excitedly exclaim that Afghanistan is America’s longest war (at 10+ years), understand why the US has been able to maintain the pace of operations there for so long: it’s because - at least when compared to other American wars - Afghanistan is just not that intense.