'Lucky shot' downed chopper and killed 37
Published 08/08/2011 | 05:00
THE apparent shooting down of a NATO helicopter by the Taliban, killing 37 people, was most likely a "lucky shot" rather than a sign of a new insurgent ability to destroy aircraft, military officials believe.
Crash investigators were still recovering wreckage yesterday from the Taliban-infiltrated valley where the Chinook crashed during a night raid against militant fighters.
The crash killed 22 US Navy Seals from the same elite unit which killed Osama bin Laden, as well as aircrew, seven Afghan commandos and an interpreter.
The deaths marked NATO's heaviest loss of life during a single incident in the decade-long Afghan campaign.
A spokesman for the Taliban said that the craft had been shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) from as close as 150 yards, soon after it took off following the raid.
Military officials in Kabul said the investigation may take days to determine why the troop transport crashed, but Afghan and White House officials confirmed that it appeared to have been shot down.
The previous single largest NATO death toll in the country was when 16 American soldiers were killed in 2005 after a Taliban rocket hit their Chinook in the eastern province of Kunar.
Recently two crew were wounded when an RPG hit their CH-47F Chinook on July 25.
RPGs are short-range weapons and inaccurate for hitting aircraft. While Taliban fighters regularly fire them at helicopters, it is usually without any great effect.
The close range and the fact that the helicopter was vulnerable while taking off could have conspired to make for a "lucky shot" said one official.
"We are not seeing it as a game changer. This was not a new tactic and it wasn't a new weapon," the official said.
"Ambushing" aircraft as they take off or land is a common tactic of the insurgents who surround NATO bases in parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan.
The helicopter crashed on the floor of the Tangi valley, by a river bed close to the villages of Hassan Kheyl and Joya Zareen in Wardak province, according to residents.
Fighting in the area continued after the raid into Saturday and yesterday. Up to 20 insurgents were reported killed. (© Daily Telegraph, London)