KABUL, Afghanistan - Five US soldiers were killed when their Chinook helicopter was apparently shot down in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a US military official said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Initial reports suggested the helicopter was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, said the US military official, who requested anonymity because details of the crash had not yet been released. It wasn't clear if there were any survivors, the official said.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, claimed in a phone call to The Associated Press that militants had shot the helicopter down in the volatile province of Helmand, the world's largest poppy-growing region and the scene of heavy fighting in recent months. That claim could not be immediately verified.
A battalion of US forces from the 82nd Airborne Division has been engaged in fierce combat in Helmand in recent weeks, though Britain has the largest number of troops in Helmand.
A Chinook in Afghanistan in an undated photo. [Reuters]
NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed that one of its helicopters crashed in southern Afghanistan, but it released no other details.
The CH-47 Chinook, a heavy transport helicopter with two rotors, can carry up to around 40 troops plus a small crew. The fact it was flying at night suggests the helicopter may have been carrying troops on a nighttime air assault.
Ahmadi said the helicopter was shot down in the Kajaki district of Helmand and that everyone on board died. He did not offer any proof of the claim. Kajaki is the site of a large US-funded hydroelectric dam that is being repaired.
"We have weapons that we have used to target helicopters before," he said.
Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan have been relatively rare. A Chinook crashed in February in the southern province of Zabul, killing eight US servicemembers. Officials ruled out enemy fire as the cause.
In May 2006, another Chinook crashed attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 US soldiers.
In 2005, a US helicopter crashed in Kunar, after apparently being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, killing 16 American troops.