October 28, 2008 in Nation/World

Taliban insurgents shoot down U.S. copter

Crew rescued; two killed in suicide bombing
By Laura King Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan – Insurgents on Monday downed a U.S. helicopter in a province near the capital, American military officials said – an unusual feat for the Taliban. The crew survived and was rescued, a U.S. military spokesman said.

Also Monday, a suicide bomber dressed as an Afghan policeman killed two American soldiers and wounded several other people at a police station in northern Afghanistan, provincial officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which also injured some Afghan officers, according to police in Baghlan province.

The U.S. military confirmed the deaths of two members of the U.S.-led coalition in the bombing in Baghlan’s capital, Pol-e Khomri, but did not immediately confirm their nationalities. Three coalition soldiers were hurt in the blast, a spokesman said.

The helicopter that was downed was flying over Wardak province, about 40 miles west of Kabul, when it came under small-arms fire from insurgents, said Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, an American military spokesman. The crew returned fire, but damage to the helicopter forced them to make a hard landing.

Matthews declined to say how many crew members had been aboard but said without providing details that they were all “extracted” from the area. Wardak has become a Taliban stronghold in recent months, which has contributed to the choking off of road traffic in and out of Kabul. Coalition troops were working to recover the helicopter, the military said, blaming the downing on the Taliban.

In more than seven years of fighting, only rarely have insurgents managed to down Western helicopters. Choppers are a crucial mode of transport for troops and supplies, because many of Afghanistan’s roads are poorly maintained and dangerous, and Western bases are scattered widely amid extremely rough terrain.

The suicide bombing in the north came as U.S. soldiers were meeting with local police officials and the bomber tried to push his way inside the police compound. American troops have taken the lead in training Afghan police and hold frequent consultations with local police commanders.

A Taliban spokesman, speaking from an undisclosed location, claimed responsibility for the bombing in Baghlan province, about 100 miles northeast of Kabul. The spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, identified the bomber as Abdul Ahad and said he was from the province.

The Taliban sometimes are able to obtain Afghan police and army uniforms, providing them to attackers to disguise themselves. But insurgents also are believed to have infiltrated some local police squadrons and attacked American troops. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in such shootings in the last month, both in eastern Afghanistan.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, 17 road workers were kidnapped by Taliban militants, the Interior Ministry said Monday. The abductions took place a day earlier in Kunar, an eastern province that borders Pakistan.

Kidnappings have become a frequent phenomenon throughout the country, with both insurgents and criminal gangs raising revenue through ransom demands.

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