WASHINGTON - Afghan insurgents shot down a U.S. Army helicopter carrying more than a dozen special operations troops yesterday in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, possibly killing all of those on board, U.S. defense and intelligence officials said.
The Chinook helicopter carrying Navy SEALs and Army special operations troops was on a counterterrorism mission to reinforce other U.S. troops engaged in a firefight with Afghan militia fighters near the provincial city of Asadabad in Kunar province.
The Associated Press reported that Mullah Latif Hakimi - who claims to be a spokesman for the Taliban - called its offices in Kabul before news of the crash was released and said the rebels shot the helicopter down.
Hakimi often calls news organizations to claim responsibility for attacks on behalf of the Taliban. His information has sometimes proved untrue or exaggerated; his exact tie to the group's leadership is nclear.
A senior U.S. military official with knowledge of the incident said early reports indicated that a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through the helicopter's fuselage.
The Pentagon said 15 to 20 U.S. personnel were on the aircraft. Military commanders in Afghanistan dispatched a team of Army Rangers to the crash site, but there were few details last night about the fate of the helicopter's passengers.
Officials said there was little indication that anyone aboard the helicopter survived the crash, which could make the attack the single deadliest incident for U.S. special operations troops in U.S. history.
"This could be worse than the day in Mogadishu." said the senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referring to the 1993 battle between special operations troops and Somali militiamen in which 18 U.S. troops were killed.
The crash was the second of a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan this year. On April 6, 15 U.S. service members and three American civilians were killed when their chopper went down in a sandstorm while returning to the U.S. base at Bagram.