NATO Chinook shot down
May 31, 2007
A CHINOOK helicopter has been shot down in southern Afghanistan, killing all seven NATO soldiers aboard. The Taliban has claimed responsibility.
Initial reports suggested the helicopter was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, a US military official said today.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said seven ISAF soldiers were killed after the CH-47 Chinook went down in Helmand province near Kajaki, the site of a major hydroelectric damn and scene of fierce battles in recent months.
The crew of five and two military passengers died, NATO said.
It did not release nationalities, but a US official said the two passengers were not American. There were no survivors.
A battalion of US forces from the 82nd Airborne Division, fighting under the ISAF flag, has been engaged in heavy fighting in recent weeks in Helmand - the world's largest poppy-growing region.
More Taliban militants have massed in Helmand than in any other province.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, claimed in a phone call to The Associated Press that militants had shot the helicopter down near Kajaki.
He did not offer any proof of the claim, but Ahmadi did specify that the helicopter went down in Kajaki hours before NATO released that information.
"We have weapons that we have used to target helicopters before," he said.
ISAF said troops responding to the crash site were ambushed by enemy fighters and that the unit called in an airstrike "to eliminate the enemy threat."
It did not specify if the troops were from the U.S.-led coalition, ISAF or Afghan forces.
One Afghan civilian was injured by gunfire during the firefight, ISAF said. The cause of the crash was "being determined by military officials," it said.
The CH-47 Chinook, a heavy transport helicopter with twin rotors, can carry up to around 40 troops plus a small crew.
The fact it was flying at night suggests the helicopter may have been carrying troops on a nighttime air assault.
Kajaki is the site of a large US-funded hydroelectric dam now being repaired so it can provide electricity to the southern city of Kandahar.
British troops, who make up the bulk of the forces in Helmand province, have been engaged in fierce fighting around the dam to protect it.
Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan have been relatively rare.
A Chinook crashed in February in the southern province of Zabul, killing eight US servicemembers. Officials ruled out enemy fire as the cause.
In May 2006, another Chinook crashed attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 US soldiers.
In 2005, a US helicopter crashed in Kunar, after apparently being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing 16 American troops.
Elsewhere, a senior military officer said the US has "got the Taliban on their heels" in Afghanistan.
Brig. Gen. Perry Wiggins, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that "as a result of a number of operations ... basically the Taliban has suffered numerous losses and has suffered losses to their senior leadership over this past month" in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
As a result, he said, the Taliban has "reverted to asymmetric-type, small-scale, high-profile attacks."
Mullah Dadullah, a one-legged veteran who orchestrated an intensifying campaign of suicide attacks and beheadings, was killed in an operation in southern Afghanistan this month.
He had been considered the top Taliban field commander.
Still, Brig. Gen. Wiggins noted that as the poppy harvest ends, more insurgents may join the battle.
"So the fight's not over," he said. "but we'll continue to take the offensive through several of the operations we have in Afghanistan, and hopefully ... continue to inflict casualties on the Taliban."