Soldiers are hurt in Afghan chopper crash

4 U.S.

Officials say weather forced craft down

all troops rescued

November 03, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - A U.S. helicopter crash-landed in Afghanistan yesterday as a result of severe weather, injuring four Special Operations soldiers, one of them seriously, the Pentagon said.

A second helicopter ferried the injured and the remaining crew members out of Afghanistan.

The Defense Department declined to provide details about the mission, including where in Afghanistan the crash had occurred. The Associated Press reported that the helicopter that crashed had gone into Afghanistan to retrieve a sick U.S. soldier, though Pentagon officials declined to comment on that report.

F-14 Tomcats from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea were dispatched and destroyed the damaged helicopter, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Taliban or the al-Qaida terrorist network, the Defense Department said.

The crash occurred about 1:30 p.m. EST - late at night in Afghanistan - the Pentagon said. None of the injuries to the U.S. crew members are life-threatening, officials said. The most seriously hurt soldier suffered a back injury that left him immobilized.

It was not clear what kind of severe weather caused the accident. Defense officials have said that poor weather conditions are among the factors that have thwarted efforts to put more U.S. special forces on the ground in Afghanistan.

The crash was the second serious incident for a U.S. military helicopter involved in special operations in the region. Two weeks ago, two U.S. servicemen were killed and several others were injured in a helicopter accident in Pakistan that was related to a commando raid into Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, U.S. special forces have operated in both northern and southern areas of Afghanistan.

Earlier yesterday, American B-52 bombers pummeled Taliban front lines with dozens of bombs north of the capital, drawing cheers from opposition fighters and futile artillery fire from Taliban gunners.

With fresh snow on the mountains, the bombardment appeared aimed at a breakthrough on the ground ahead of the harsh Afghan winter. "There are too many to count!" 20-year-old opposition fighter Shamsher Khan said of the deafening blasts that reverberated across the Shomali Plain, 25 miles north of Kabul.

Plumes of white, black and gray smoke rose thousands of feet into the air. The bombing was the heaviest so far along the Kabul front in the nearly 4-week-old air campaign. U.S. forces on the ground appeared to be directing yesterday's strikes, opposition forces said, as U.S. war planners worked to send additional special forces troops into Afghanistan amid bad weather.

In Washington, President Bush said that the aerial assault over Afghanistan would continue during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that begins Nov. 17.

"The enemy won't rest during Ramadan, and neither will we," Bush said. "We're going to pursue this war until we achieve our objectives."

Yesterday's bombing north of Kabul - as well as strong American attacks against Taliban positions defending the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif - appeared aimed at enabling the northern opposition alliance to break the Taliban's front lines, where the Islamic militia has reportedly beefed up its forces. The opposition has also reinforced its troop strength near the front lines, but it still appears far outgunned and outmanned by the Taliban.

"It was boom, boom, boom all at once," opposition commander Abdul Khalil said of the B-52s that dropped 25 bombs each in rapid succession several times along the Kabul front. Elated opposition fighters and awed villagers said some 60 bombs fell by midday. In the afternoon, fighters counted six runs by B-52 bombers. They appeared to be targeting positions both on the front line, including a Taliban-held village called Kharabogh, and deeper inside Taliban-held territory.

At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon is deploying a JSTARS surveillance aircraft, which is used to track forces on the ground over hundreds of miles, as well as a Global Hawk unmanned aircraft, which is a long-range, high-altitude surveillance aircraft that has never before been used in a conflict. Both aircraft are capable of tracking targets in Afghanistan in any kind of weather.

JSTARS stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. The aircraft was first used in the Persian Gulf war.

The United States is having a difficult time pinpointing the chief terror suspect, Osama bin Laden, Stufflebeem said. U.S. intelligence officials say the search for bin Laden is focused on caves or tunnels. Analysts are trying to narrow the search, looking primarily in the east and south, with reported sightings stretching from Kabul to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

"He's an elusive character," Stufflebeem said.

Bush chided critics who are demanding more aggressive U.S. action and said the American people understand the struggle will be a long one.

"This is not an instant-gratification war," the president said.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld headed for the region yesterday to try to shore up American support. During an in-flight interview yesterday, Rumsfeld said the Taliban were "substantially weakened, in many cases cloistered away from the people." He said it would be "mindless" to slow the military campaign so Afghan factions could agree on an interim post-Taliban government.

"I don't think it's possible to manage the war campaign on the ground under a political timetable," Rumsfeld said.

He was to visit Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India on a weekend trip, starting his tour in Moscow and meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, to discuss arms control and other issues.

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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