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House panel probing chopper crash that killed SEAL Team 6 members

chinook_afghanistan.jpg

Shown here is a military Chinook helicopter in Laghman province, Afghanistan.Reuters

A House panel is investigating the 2011 helicopter crash in Afghanistan in which 30 Americans were killed, after victims' family members voiced concern that the government may have been partly to blame for the tragedy. 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, confirmed to FoxNews.com that his subcommittee on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is probing the crash, and lawmakers probably will hold at least one hearing. The helicopter was shot down by insurgents in August 2011; many of those killed were part of the same Navy SEAL Team 6 unit that carried out the raid on Usama bin Laden's compound three months earlier. 

Two months ago, family members held a press conference suggesting the government put the SEALs in danger -- and potentially made them an inadvertent target -- after revealing the unit's role in the bin Laden raid. 

Multiple sources inside the Special Operations community have told Fox News that the crash was a tragedy, but not anything more. An official report was released in October 2011. 

Asked about the House panel probe, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jim Gregory said the concerns would be addressed "via our legislative channels." 

He noted that "this was thoroughly investigated," and said "the operational planning and execution of this mission was consistent with previous missions, and the forces and capabilities were appropriate given the agility required to maintain pressure on insurgent networks." 

"Additionally, I think it is important to say that we share in the grief of all of the families who lost their loved ones," he added. 

But Chaffetz, in an interview Thursday with FoxNews.com, loosely compared the case to the confusion over football star Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan. It eventually emerged that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, though that was not initially disclosed.   

"This smells at least from afar like the Tillman case," Chaffetz said. 

Nobody is claiming the 2011 crash was a friendly fire incident. But family members and others have floated the theory that they might have been targeted because of their Navy SEAL affiliation, that they were ill-equipped and that events after the crash were suspicious. 

"These are Navy SEALs taken down shortly after we took out Usama bin Laden," Chaffetz said. 

Chaffetz questioned, for instance, the military's claim that the helicopter's black box washed away and was lost. "Really, seriously?" Chaffetz said. 

He also questioned the claim that the bodies were cremated, saying one "whistle-blower" released photos to the families showing at least one body of a presumed victim. 

While not drawing any conclusions, Chaffetz said that "there seems to be a lot of validity to what they were concerned about" and that "we're going to dive deeper into it." 

It's unclear whether the subcommittee will find anything new, as these claims have been floated for a while without any definitive findings. The Hill, which first reported on the subcommittee probe, cited documents provided to the families that apparently indicate the Pentagon does not believe the victims were targeted over the bin Laden raid. A Defense official claimed in one transcript that it was an "ambush" and that the crash was the result of a "lucky shot of a low-level fighter" who happened to be there, according to The Hill.   

A total of 38 people, including some Afghan troops, were killed in the crash after the helicopter was shot down by a Taliban-owned RPG on Aug. 6, 2011.