Quake relief helicopter was fired on, say US pilots

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The Independent Online

A rocket-propelled grenade has been fired at an American cargo helicopter bringing aid to earthquake victims in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir, US pilots said.

The Chinook helicopter, flying over the devastated town of Chakothi near the Line of Control, was not hit, and there were no injuries or damages, but the alleged incident calls into question the massive American airlift of humanitarian aid to Pakistan, one of its allies in the "war on terror".

The Americans briefly suspended relief operations, but were due to resume aid flights this morning. A joint investigation was launched by Pakistan and the US.

American officials were not able to identify who fired the weapon, and last night no one had admitted responsibility. But Chakothi is a stronghold for Islamist militants opposed to President Pervez Musharraf's ties to the Bush administration.

A Pakistani Army spokesman, Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan, denied that the Chinook was fired upon, and suggested that the Americans had confused the sound of road-blasting for dynamite with enemy fire. "The blast was huge enough to kick up dust which the pilot probably misunderstood as rocket fire," he said. The roads in Kashmir province are blocked by landslides after the earthquake on 8 October.

None of the 60 relief helicopters operating over Pakistan is armed. Weapons have been removed to increase cargo capacity while the aircraft are on loan from forces in Afghanistan.

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