A helicopter belonging to NATO-led forces made a “hard” landing in southern Afghanistan Friday, but all personnel on board “have been recovered with no casualties,” a U.S. military spokesman said, dismissing Taliban claims of shooting down the aircraft.
The incident happened in the restive Helmand province, the site of intense fighting in recent weeks where many of its 14 districts are under the control of the Taliban insurgency
"We can confirm a Resolute Support helicopter made a hard landing in Helmand province on 18 March 2016. Initial reports indicated that there was no enemy activity in the area,” U.S. Army Col. Michael Lawhorn told VOA.
He added the incident is currently under investigation.
In a statement sent to reporters, a Taliban spokesman claimed it brought down a U.S. military helicopter in the Shawal Manda area of the Nad Ali district and “all American soldiers on board were killed on the spot.”
Hundreds of U.S. troops have recently arrived in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah to help Afghan forces defending the city, which has been under pressure from the insurgents.
However, coalition officials insist the redeployment of forces to Helmand does not change the non-combat nature of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, which remains focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan troops.
Local and coalition commanders anticipate a spike in insurgent activities during the coming warmer months in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has captured more Afghan territory over the past year than at any time since it was ousted from power in 2001, taking advantage of the withdrawal of NATO's combat forces from the country in 2014.
The insurgent group’s refusal earlier this month to engage in direct peace talks with the Afghan government have fueled concerns of more bloodshed in 2016.
Fugitive Taliban Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, in a statement posted on the Taliban’s official website Thursday, strengthened those fears.
“The Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate [Taliban fighters] are in a much better state than at any other time to wage a decisive battle because of their great conquests in various province…We shall witness many conquests in the coming months,” Mansoor said.
He again rejected reports of rifts in the insurgency and its willingness to seek political reconciliation as enemy propaganda, military plots and insinuations.