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Details emerge on death of Navy SEAL

U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts shown in his 1987 Woodland High School, California, yearbook photo
U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts shown in his 1987 Woodland High School, California, yearbook photo  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Soon after a U.S. helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade Monday, a Navy SEAL fell from the Chinook and was dragged away by three al Qaeda fighters and executed.

It was a horrifying scene that transpired as his commanders watched in agony the images beamed back from a reconnaissance plane, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The description was one of the most detailed accounts of the deadliest day in the war against terrorism for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Six other U.S. service members died in a firefight Monday after their chopper was hit by enemy fire and crash landed about a mile from the first incident in rugged terrain in eastern Afghanistan.

U.S. officials said that when the first helicopter was hit by the al Qaeda-launched RPG, it rapidly took off and landed a short distance away with hydraulic failure from the attack. The crew then discovered one of its men had apparently fallen out.

Meanwhile, commanders of the forces watched real-time images from an unmanned Predator drone that showed al Qaeda members capture and kill Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, 32, officials said.

"We saw him on the Predator being dragged off by three al Qaeda men," Major Gen. Frank L. Hagenbeck, the operation commander, told a pool reporter.

He said the United States responded Tuesday with withering force, using Apache helicopters and Air Force fighters to strike the al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.

"We body slammed them today and killed hundreds of those guys," Hagenbeck said.

In the second incident Monday, officials said two helicopters were flying in the region when one of the choppers came under fire.

An intense firefight broke out on the ground after the helicopter crash landed. Six Americans were killed in the ensuing battle.

The remaining crew members had to survive coming under constant fire for about 12 to 14 hours before being rescued, officials said. The bodies of those killed were recovered at that time.

A commando team secretly moved into the area and retrieved Roberts' body. His crew mates in the crippled chopper also were rescued, officials said.

The Pentagon said there was no choice but to keep forces in the middle of the fight.

"There was an American, for whatever reason, [who] was left behind. And we don't leave Americans behind," said Brig Gen. John Rosa, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.




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