June 28, 2005

U.S. military helicopter crashes in Afghanistan

By David Brunnstrom

KABUL (Reuters) - A U.S. military helicopter carrying up to20 American troops crashed during an anti-guerrilla mission ineastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, U.S. officials said.

The fate of those on board was not immediately known.

Afghan officials said the Chinook helicopter was hit by arocket, but a U.S. military statement said it was not knownwhat caused the crash in Kunar province near the Pakistaniborder.

A Taliban commander, Mullah Rauf, said Taliban guerrillasshot down the aircraft while it was flying close to the groundbut he did not know about casualties.

"Using only small arms and simple rockets, we shot downthis helicopter," he said by satellite phone.

In Washington, a U.S. defense official at the Pentagon, whoasked not to be identified, said that according to preliminaryreports, the helicopter was carrying 15 to 20 American troops.

The official cautioned that information from themountainous region was sketchy.

Asadullah Wafa, the governor of Kunar province, said theChinook was hit by a rocket in Wotapoor district, about 8 km(five miles) from the provincial capital Asadabad. "But I don'tknow if it crashed there or somewhere else," he said.

The twin-rotor CH-47 was transporting troops into an areain support of U.S. forces, the U.S. military said in astatement.

"The cause of the crash and status of survivors isunknown," it said. "U.S. fixed-wing aircraft and helicoptersare currently providing close air support to the forces on theground."

A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan,Lieutenant-Colonel Jerry O'Hara, said he had no furtherdetails.

The U.S. Army says a Chinook is capable of carrying threecrew and 33 troops. It was the second crash of a U.S. militaryCH-47 in Afghanistan in less than three months.

Another crashed in a dust storm southwest of Kabul while ona routine mission on April 6, killing 18 people, including 16military personnel, the deadliest military air accident sinceWashington first deployed troops to the country in 2001.

At least 14 other U.S. soldiers have been killed inincreased militant activity since March aimed at derailingSept. 18 parliamentary elections, the next big step inAfghanistan's difficult path to stability.


Earlier on Tuesday, roadside bombs, including one thatexploded near Asadabad, killed five policeman, one of them aKunar district police chief.

Several rockets also landed near a U.N.-Afghan electioncommission office in Asadabad, causing no casualties or damage.

Government spokesman Jawed Ludin vowed the elections wouldbe held on schedule despite the violence and would be even moresuccessful than October's presidential ballot won byU.S.-backed Hamid Karzai.

"The (guerrilla) challenges are very feeble," he said.

"They are very small compared with the increasingcapability of our own forces, compared with the combinedcapability of the international community that's there to helpus and compared to the will of the Afghan people."

He said fighting in the southwest last week showed theweakness of the Taliban, who were ousted from power by U.S.-ledforces in late 2001.

(Additional reporting by Yousuf Azimy in KABUL and CharlesAldinger in Washington)