5 Americans die as copter is shot down

Published May 31, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan - Five Americans and two other soldiers died when a Chinook helicopter was apparently shot down Wednesday evening in Afghanistan's most volatile province, a U.S. military official said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force said other troops rushing to the scene were ambushed and had to call in air support to drive off their attackers.

Initial reports suggested the helicopter was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade, said the U.S. official, who spoke anonymously because the crash was still under investigation. NATO said there were no survivors.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said in a phone call to the Associated Press that militants shot the helicopter down in southern Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-growing region.

Ahmadi did not offer any proof for his claim, but he specified the helicopter crashed in the Kajaki district hours before NATO reported that information. Kajaki is the site of a hydroelectric dam and the scene of recent fighting.

NATO said the Chinook was carrying a crew of five and two military passengers when it crashed. The cause was "being determined by military officials, " it said. The passengers were a British and a Canadian soldier, military officials said.

NATO said troops going to the crash site were ambushed, and the unit called in an airstrike. It did not say if the troops were from the U.S.-led coalition, NATO's force or the Afghan army. One civilian was injured by gunfire.

The CH-47 Chinook, a heavy transport helicopter with two rotors, can carry about 40 soldiers plus a small crew. The fact it was flying at night suggested the aircraft might have been carrying troops on a nighttime air assault.

The NATO force, which is responsible for a countrywide counterinsurgency campaign, has 37, 000 soldiers, including about 14, 000 Americans. There are 12, 000 U.S. troops in the separate U.S.-led coalition, which trains the Afghan army and conducts special forces operations.

Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan have been relatively rare. A Chinook crashed in February in the southern province of Zabul, killing eight Americans.