U.S. helicopter in Afganistan shot by hostile fire

A U.S. Chinook helicopter crashed in eastern Afghanistan. The U.S. military said Wednesday the helicopter was likely shot down by hostile fire, and the Taliban took responsibility for the attack.

According to AP, fate of 17 American service members on board is unclear. The troops were on a mission against guerrillas in eastern Afghanistan when the helicopter went down on Tuesday in mountainous terrain near Asadabad, in Kunar province, considered to be a stronghold for Taliban guerrillas. At the same time the U.S. military said the troops took part in Operation Red Wing, aimed at al-Qaida fighters.

The status of the service members is reported to be unknown.

Kunar police chief Abdul Ghafar Momand said the helicopter was thought have come down either in Shorai, around 15 km (10 miles) from Asadabad, or on a mountain between neighboring Marogai and Ghaziabad districts.

Yesterday Asadullah Wafa, the local provincial governor, said that guerrillas had shot down the helicopter with a rocket.

An alleged Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi telephoned AP before news of the crash was released and claimed the insurgents shot the helicopter down. The attack had been filmed and the video wpuld be released to the media, the spokesman added. But AP stressed, that Hakimi often calls media to claim responsibility for attacks on behalf of the Taliban. His information has frequently proven untrue or exaggerated, and his exact tie to the group's leadership is unclear, says AP.

If confirmed, the attack could become the first time a U.S.-led coalition aircraft has been downed by hostile fire in Afganistan, which represents a major new threat to the coalition, believes AP. According to The Times, the crash is the second of a US Chinook in Afghanistan in less than three months. In the event worst forecasts come true, it could turn out to be the deadliest since the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, believes the newspaper.

More than 660 people have been killed in Afghanistan since March - including 465 suspected insurgents, 29 U.S. troops, 43 Afghan police and soldiers, and 125 civilians - a level unprecedented since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, notes AP.

The military statement said coalition and Afghan troops had "quickly moved into position around the crash to block any enemy movement toward or away from the site" and that coalition support aircraft were overhead.

The increase in fighting has intensified concerns that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down, CNN believes. U.S. and Afghan officials warn things could get worse ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for September.

The CH-47SD International Chinook is the most advanced model of the world's most efficient heavy-lift helicopter. About 800 Chinooks are currently in service in the United States and more than 15 other nations.

The Chinook's primary missions include transport of troops, artillery, ammunition, fuel, water, barrier materials, supplies and equipment on the battlefield. Other missions include medical evacuation, aircraft recovery, fire fighting, parachute drops, heavy construction, civil development, disaster relief and search and rescue, according to Boeing.com.

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