5 US Special Operations Forces killed in helicopter crash in Mediterranean

Five US military special operations forces were killed in a helicopter crash in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, US officials said on Sunday.

The soldiers were crew members of an MH-60 helicopter that was on a refueling training mission early Saturday when the plane crashed off the coast of Cyprus, three US officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. The accident is under investigation, they said.

The Pentagon has quietly sent commando teams from the Joint Special Operations Command, including the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEAL Team 6, to Cyprus to be on standby in case they are needed to help evacuate American citizens from the region.

Commandos are also trained in hostage rescue operations. About a dozen American hostages were seized when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, but Biden administration officials have indicated they have no plans to put American boots on the ground in the densely populated Gaza Strip where the Israeli military is now conducting major ground operations.

The helicopter crew members who died were among the airmen tasked with transporting commandos on such secret missions.

The US aircraft carrier, the Gerald Ford, also operates in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Israel, which the Biden administration has said is deterring Iran and its proxies in the region from expanding the war in Gaza.

In a statement Sunday, the military’s European command acknowledged the deaths of five service members on what it said was a “routine aerial refueling mission,” but released no other information about the crash, the crew or its unit, reflecting the secrecy surrounding the unit’s mission.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement Sunday: “We mourn the tragic loss of five U.S. service members during a training accident in the Mediterranean Sea early Saturday morning.”

“As we continue to gather more information about this deadly accident,” Mr. Austin said, “it is another stark reminder that the brave men and women who defend our great nation put their lives on the line every day to keep our country safe.”

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