US denies Taliban shot down helicopter in Afghanistan

War on terrorism: Claims
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The Independent Online

An exchange of claim and counter-claim took place between Washington and the Taliban after the regime said it had recovered wreckage from a downed US helicopter inside Afghanistan.

Taliban fighters posed for television pictures next to aircraft wheels which the Taliban regime claimed had been taken from the wreckage in Helmand province, close to the southern city of Kandahar. The Al-Jazeera network showed the pieces of wreckage that the Taliban said were stencilled with words written in English.

But the Pentagon dismissed the claims, saying that none of its helicopters had been lost inside Afghanistan. The only helicopter crash, it said, was the accident in the early hours of Saturday when a Black Hawk, on standby for search and rescue for a special forces operation, came down inside Pakistan. Two US personnel were killed in the crash, which officials say may have been caused by a storm of dust created by the helicopter's blades.

"We have not lost any helicopters in Afghanistan. If they found helicopter wreckage it wasn't ours," a Pentagon spokeswoman said. Her comments appeared to suggest that a helicopter – possibly flown by the Northern Alliance – could have crashed.

Exactly what the Taliban may have found and then displayed on Al-Jazeera remained unclear last night. The Qatari satellite television station showed close-up footage of what the Taliban described as new aircraft wheels and a piece of metal stencilled with the English words "Shock. Loud Engineering".

A US company, Loud Engineering & Manufacturing Inc, based in Ontario, California, makes parts for the CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The company's chairman, Mark Lee, said it was investigating the claims.

The Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted the Taliban's consul in the Pakistan city of Peshawar, Maulawi Najibullah, as saying he had been informed of the discovery of the wreckage. "Right now I have been informed by Amirul Monineen's office that they have discovered pieces of an American helicopter in Baba Sahib hills ... some burned tyres and parts and traces of blood," he said.

Amirul Monineen, or leader of the faithful, is the title given to the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who the US has been targeting for his refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden. The Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, told a news conference in Islamabad that other US helicopters had tried to retrieve the wreckage in Helmand but were driven away by Taliban fighters.

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