By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
The Pentagon will put the death toll of Navy SEALs in last weekend's downing of a helicopter in Afghanistan at 17, according to two Defense Department officials.
The original figure provided to the news media by Pentagon sources for the number of SEALs killed was 22.
Officials say further information that has come in also indicates that not all of the SEALs were assigned to a top-secret Naval unit as they originally said.
By CNN's Larry Shaughnessy and Adam Levine
Coalition forces in Afghanistan killed the Taliban insurgents involved in the downing last weekend of the Chinook helicopter, which killed 38 special forces, support and Afghan troops, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan said on Wednesday.
ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen, said the attack happen sometime late Monday night or early Tuesday morning in Afghanistan. "Coalition forces killed the Taliban insurgents responsible for this attack against the helicopter, which we assess was an RPG round. This action was a continuation of the original mission," said Allen, who replaced Gen. David Petraeus last month as the overall US commander in Afghanistan. "This does not ease our loss, but we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy."
On the night of the crash, the CH-47 carried Special Operations Forces, including some two dozen Navy SEALs, intended to pursue insurgents from a Taliban network who were fleeing an engagement in which six militants had already been killed.
In a news release sent out just as Allen began briefing reporters, ISAF said “The strike killed Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah and the insurgent who fired the shot associated with the Aug. 6 downing of the CH-47 helicopter, which resulted in the deaths of 38 Afghan and coalition service members. “
Allen said Mohibullah was not the Taliban leader who the SEALs were after on the night of August 6th when their helicopter crashed, but he would not say who the leader was.
Mohibullah, the unnamed fighter who fired the RPG that apparently brought down the helicopter, and several other Taliban fighters were killed by precision air strikes delivered by an F-16 as they tried to flee Afghanistan through the Chak District not far from where the SEALs and their fellow troops died. "After an exhaustive manhunt, Special Operations forces located Mullah Mohibullah and the shooter after receiving multiple intelligence leads and tips from local citizens," the news release from ISAF said.
An investigation of the downing of the Chinook is being led by Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Colt, the Deputy Commander of the 101st Airborne Division.
While Allen said the early assessment was that it was an RPG or rocket propelled grenade that hit the helicopter, he acknowledged for the first time that the Chinook took fire from several Taliban locations, mostly from small arms fire, on its approach to its landing zone. He did not know yet if any of the small arms fire hit the helicopter. "The purpose of the investigation ultimately is to assess that it was in fact an RPG and ultimately to assess if small arms fire contributed to the crash of this aircraft. And so that will come out in the investigation."
China's first aircraft carrier sailed out of the northeastern port of Dailan for sea trials Wednesday morning, the state-run news agency Xinhua reported. China has spent nearly a decade refurbishing the 67,000-ton, 300-meter (1,000-foot) ship, begun by the former Soviet Union but never completed.
Xinhua quoted military sources as saying the trials would be brief, and the carrier would return to Dailan for further refits.
China once renounced aircraft carriers as tools of imperialism, but has been developing a blue-water navy in recent years, along with air power to back it up.
It purchased the rusting, gutted shell of the Varyag, the Soviet-begun carrier now under way, from Ukraine in 1998.
Only a handful of other nations operate aircraft carriers - and only the United States, with 11, has more than two in service.
In a opinion piece posted on Xinhua, the commentator defends the carrier as necessary defensive step and insists China "will never seek hegemony."
"As a matter of fact, it is noteworthy that China was the only permanent UN Security Council member state that did not own an aircraft carrier. In Asia alone, India and Thailand have already owned aircraft carriers," writer Wei Jianhua said. "China's need to defend its long coastline and enormous maritime interests is basically behind the country's resolve to develop aircraft carriers. China has also learnt a lesson from its modern history of humiliation that backwardness leaves one vulnerable to attack."
The US military begs to differ, warning in its annual report to Congress on China's military that the carrier is part of a larger strategy by the People's Liberation Army to extend China's "operational reach" and provides "an enhanced extended range power projection capability and could alter regional balances, disrupting the delicate status quo" in the South China Sea.
But the Pentagon tried to play down today's trial, saying the Chinese are a long way off from utilizing the carrier.
"China has initiated a land-based training program for pilots and carrier aircraft, but it will take several years for the PLA to effectively operate aircraft from a carrier," spokeswoman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde told CNN.