Taliban 'filmed fighters shooting down Chinook'

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The Independent Online

Two men claiming to be Taliban spokesmen have phoned Western news agencies claiming to have video footage of the helicopter being shot down and the aftermath of the crash.

Marine Corps General Peter Pace yesterday told the Senate Armed Service Committee that the helicopter had been shot down: "It was a special operations helicopter shot down, possibly by a rocket-propelled grenade, some kind of rocket, but we don't know," he said.

US-led coalition rescue troops have been dropped by helicopter into the mountains around the crash site to search for survivors.

The Chinook appears to have been the first American aircraft shot down in Afghanistan. US aircraft have been downed in Iraq, and this latest incident will increase fears that the situation in Afghanistan could escalate to mirror that.

It is also reminiscent of the way in which Afghan mujahedin shot down Red Army helicopters with US-supplied Stinger shoulder-launched missiles during the jihad against the Soviet occupation, a parallel that will be lost on no one in Afghanistan. The success of the mujahedin in crippling Soviet movements by bringing down their helicopters is thought by many to have been decisive in forcing the Soviet withdrawal.

The US helicopter was carrying troops to Konar, where the US military says it has "a large force" fighting with "a very determined al-Qa'ida enemy". The New York Times quoted unnamed military sources as saying the helicopter was carrying Navy Seals special forces.

The governor of Konar, Asadullah Waffa, said the helicopter had been brought down by a rocket fired by militants who had crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan to spread chaos ahead of the September parliamentary elections, and that Afghan security forces had captured two militants posing as cameramen.

General Pace told the Senate committee that insurgent violence in Afghanistan was rising and expected to worsen, and more US troops would be sent there ahead of the elections. The US would send "whatever number we need to ensure the security," and Nato also "will send in extra troops," General Pace said. Nato has about 8,300 troops in Afghanistan.

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