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Pentagon Acknowledges Downing of US Helicopter in Afghanistan

The Pentagon says the rare downing of an American helicopter in Afghanistan reflects the increased operations by both NATO and Taliban forces, and a spokesman says the attack on a supply convoy in Pakistan Wednesday was serious but will not significantly affect the Afghanistan effort.

Taliban forces shot down the U.S. military helicopter during an operation in southern Helmand Province, one of the key areas where additional American troops are pouring in and operations are intensifying. Helmand and neighboring Kandahar have been the scenes of intense fighting in recent weeks, including a series of insurgent attacks this week in which 17 NATO troops have been killed, most of them Americans.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says it is rare for a U.S. helicopter to be shot down, but argues that one such incident does not indicate a trend or suggest any change in the strategic situation. He also says the United States never predicts casualty levels, but he acknowledges the higher operational tempo will likely result in more difficult weeks like this one.

"We have active operations going on in Afghanistan. And we have more forces there than we've ever had in the past. And it is a period of time in which you'll see the Taliban try to conduct their own operations," said Whitman. "While we conduct our operations carefully and try to mitigate the risk in all of our operations, the fact of the matter is that we have taken some casualties. We've taken quite a few this week. It's been a tough week," the spokesman added.

Also on Wednesday, gunmen attacked a commercial convoy of U.S. supplies while it sat at a truck stop in Pakistan, killing at least seven people and burning more than 50 containers of supplies. The convoy was part of an extensive contracting program that the U.S. military says transports about half the supplies for American troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan. Pakistani officials say the figure is even higher. But Whitman notes there are several other routes, including an air hub in Kyrgyzstan and overland routes through Russia.

"It's not an insignificant attack," he stressed. "I don't want to try to minimize the fact that this was a very vicious attack on a large convoy. But in terms of impact on our operations, you can see that we have, obviously, a lot of redundancy built into our operations," said Whitman.

Demands on the supply lines have increased sharply with the surge of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, which still has several thousand more troops to go.