Copter could have been shot down: US

Agence France Presse

Kabul, June 29:

A US helicopter which crashed in Afghanistan with 17 service members on board was likely shot down, the military said today, in what is believed to be the first such incident since the fall of the Taliban.

American officials said they did not know the fate of those on board the Chinook, which came down during an anti-Al Qaeda mission in the mountainous, insurgency-plagued eastern province of Kunar yesterday.

The Taliban militia, ousted by a US-led invasion in late 2001, claimed responsibility for shooting down the giant troop transporting helicopter.

“Seventeen service members were on board the CH-47 helicopter that crashed in mountainous terrain west of Asadabad on June 28,” a US military statement said.

“Initial reports indicate the crash may have been caused by hostile fire.

The status of the service members is unknown at this time.”

“The helicopter was transporting forces into the area as part of Operation Red Wing, which is part of the enduring fight to defeat Al Qaeda militants and deny them influence in Kunar province,” the US military added. “Operation Red Wing continues in Kunar.”

A Taliban spokesman said the helicopter was in the area after rebels seized seven Afghans “working as spies for the Americans with satellite phones and maps” and trying to track down militants. “Taliban recognised the seven spies, arrested them, tried and executed them,” Taliban spokesman Mullah Abdul Latif Hakimi told AFP by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.

“Among the seven, one of them managed to get the message out to the Americans, who came with helicopters.” He said Taliban rebels shot down the Chinook near a village called Shurak and that all passengers on board were killed. There was no way of independently confirming his account.