Saturday, August 6, 2011

AFGHANISTAN: Dozens of U.S. Troops feared killed

Dozens of U.S. troops feared killed as NATO helicopter crashes in Afghan offensive

KABUL — A NATO helicopter crashed during an operation against the Taliban near the Afghan capital late Friday night, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office said 31 U.S. troops and seven Afghan soldiers were killed.
A second coalition helicopter was forced to make a precautionary landing in another part of Afghanistan, local officials and a spokesman for the multinational forces said Saturday.
The Taliban insurgents, who claimed responsibility for both incidents, said dozens of foreign troops were killed in the first crash, which occurred in a volatile area of Sayed Abad in Maidan Wardak province west of Kabul overnight.
Eight guerrillas were killed in the military operation before the group shot down the aircraft, a spokesman for the Taliban said.
A spokesman for the governor of Maidan Wardak said the NATO helicopter crashed during an operation against the Taliban and there could be casualties among those on board. He confirmed the Taliban spokesman’s figure about the loss of Taliban fighters during the operation.
Capt. Justin M. Brockhoff, a spokesman with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said he could not comment on the reports about the loss of dozens of ISAF casualties. He said he could not provide details about the type of aircraft involved or the site of the crash.
“ISAF is still in the process of assessing the circumstances to determine the facts of the incident, reporting indicates there was enemy activity in the area,” he said.
The second incident involving another helicopter happened on Saturday in an area of Khost province, a restive region in the southeast of the country. Brockhoff said the helicopter made a precautionary landing and all on board had escaped unhurt. The helicopter suffered minor damages, he said, rejecting Taliban’s claim that the group had shot it down.
The two incidents are among the latest crashes involving NATO and U.S. aircraft in recent months in Afghanistan where a resurgent Taliban has been carrying out more deadly attacks. The number of crashes or “hard landing” of aircraft belonging to NATO forces have been significantly high in the past months.
Both Khost and Maidan Wardak are in the eastern region of Afghanistan where the ISAF and the U.S. military have shifted part of their military focus following a rise in militant activities recently.
NATO and the U.S. military have cleared the Taliban from several pockets of resistance in the south of the country by a troops surge in the past one and a half years. But the Taliban is still able to mount ambushes and suicide attacks in the south against foreign troops and Afghan forces.
The latest Taliban attack targeted a patrol of coalition on Friday in Nad Ali district of southern Helmand province.
The attack prompted NATO to use air power against the militants and eight civilians, all members of one family, were killed in the airstrike, a local official said. Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, confirmed the loss of civilians in the NATO airstrike, but could not provide further details. ISAF’s Brockhoff confirmed the airstrike and the presence of civilians at the time. He said the coalition was assessing the incident and more information will be released at an “appropriate” time.