Monday, October 26, 2009

14 Americans Killed When Helicopters Are Shot Down in Afghanistan

14 Americans killed in 2 Afghan helicopter crashes

By HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press Writer

KABUL – A helicopter crash and separate collision involving two other choppers killed 14 Americans on Monday in one of the deadliest days for U.S. troops in the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. military said.

In the first crash, a helicopter went down in the west of the country after leaving the scene of a firefight with insurgents, killing 10 Americans — seven troops and three civilians working for the government. Eleven American troops, one U.S. civilian and 14 Afghans were also injured.

In a separate incident in the south, two other U.S. choppers collided while in flight, killing four American troops and wounding two more, the military said.

U.S. authorities have ruled out hostile fire in the collision but have not given a cause for the other fatal crash in the west. Taliban spokesman Qari Yusuf Ahmedi claimed Taliban fighters shot down a helicopter in northwest Badghis province's Darabam district. It was impossible to verify the claim and unclear if he was referring to the same incident.

U.S. forces also reported the death of two other American troops a day earlier: one in a bomb attack in the east, and another who died of wounds sustained in an insurgent attack in the same region. The deaths bring to at least 46 the number of U.S. troops who have been killed in October.

The deaths come as U.S. officials debate whether to send tens of thousands more troops to the country and the Afghan government scrambles to organize a Nov. 7 runoff election between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah from an August vote that was sullied by massive ballot-rigging. President Barack Obama's administration is hoping the runoff will produce a legitimate government. Another flawed election would cast doubt on the wisdom of sending more troops to support a weak government tainted by fraud.

In Washington, Obama was to meet with his national security team Monday in what was to be the sixth full-scale Afghanistan conference in the White House Situation Room.

Also Monday, Abdullah called for election commission chairman Azizullah Lodin to be replaced within five days, saying he has "no credibility."

Lodin has denied accusations he is biased in favor of Karzai, and the election commission's spokesman has already said Lodin cannot be replaced by either side.

Abdullah made the demand in a news conference during which he spelled out a list of what he said were "minimum conditions" for holding a fair second round of voting, including the firing of any workers implicated in fraud and the suspension of several ministers he said had campaigned for Karzai in the first round before the official campaigning period began.

Abdullah did not say what would happen if his demands were not met. "I reserve my reaction if we are faced with that unfortunate situation," he said.

This has been the deadliest year for international and U.S. forces since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban. Fighting spiked around the presidential vote in August, and 51 U.S. soldiers died that month — the deadliest for American forces in the eight-year war.

Earlier this month, insurgents killed eight American troops in an attack on a pair of isolated U.S. outposts in the eastern village of Kamdesh near the Pakistan border. That was the heaviest U.S. loss of life in a single battle since July 2008, when nine American soldiers were killed in a raid on an outpost in Wanat in the same province.

"These separate tragedies today underscore the risks our forces and our partners face every day," Col. Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the NATO-led coalition, said Monday. "Each and every death is a tremendous loss for the family and friends of each service member and civilian. Our grief is compounded when we have such a significant loss on one day."

U.S. military spokeswoman Elizabeth Mathias said coalition forces had launched an operation to recover the wreckage of the helicopter that was downed in the west.

She said the aircraft was leaving the site of a joint operation with Afghan forces when it went down.

The joint force had "searched a suspected compound believed to harbor insurgents conducting activities related to narcotics trafficking in western Afghanistan," NATO said in a statement. "During the operation, insurgent forces engaged the joint force and more than a dozen enemy fighters were killed in the ensuing firefight."

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium — the raw ingredient in heroin — and the illicit drug trade is a major source of funding for Taliban and other insurgent groups.

On Sunday, Karzai and Abdullah both ruled out a power-sharing deal before the runoff, saying the second round of balloting must be held as planned to bolster democracy in this war-ravaged country.

Meanwhile, security forces in Kabul fired automatic rifles into the air for a second day Monday to contain hundreds of stone-throwing university students angered over the alleged desecration of Islam's holy book, the Quran, by U.S. troops during an operation two weeks ago in Wardak province. Fire trucks were also brought in to push back protesters with water cannons. Police said several officers were injured in the mayhem.

U.S. and Afghan authorities have denied any such desecration and insist that the Taliban are spreading the rumor to stir up public anger. The rumor has sparked similar protests in Wardak and Khost provinces.

On Sunday, the students in the capital burned Obama in effigy and chanted slogans such as "down with Americans, down with Israel" as they marched from Kabul University to the parliament building, where riot police turned them back.

Associated Press Writers Rahim Faiez, Todd Pitman and Robert H. Reid contributed to this report from Kabul; Noor Khan reported from Kandahar.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
04:08 Mecca time, 01:08 GMT

'No rush' on US-Afghanistan plan

Obama said that he would not risk the lives of US service personnel 'unless necessary'

The US president has said that he will not rush a decision on whether to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, during an address to military servicemen and women in Florida.

"I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this - and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan," Barack Obama said at a naval air station in Jacksonville on Monday.

"I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way ... I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary, and if it is necessary, we will back you up.

Obama's address came hours after he led a sixth meeting of a bipartisan war council, which focused on future military strategy in Afghanistan.

The US president is considering whether to agree to a reported request by the senior commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan to have 40,000 more US troops sent to the country to crack down on resurgent fighters linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

President under pressure

Obama is set to announce his decision on strategy "in the coming weeks", Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said after the war council meeting on Monday.

Critics of the president have accused him of taking too long to consider which direction he wants to take in the US battle in Afghanistan.

Dick Cheney, a former US vice-president, said last week that Obama was "dithering" and "waffling" over strategy, claims dismissed by the White House.

But John Kerry, a US senator who played a key role in brokering the run-off presidential election in Afghanistan between Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, said that McChrystal's request contained risks.

"[McChrystal] understands the necessity of conducting a smart counterinsurgency in a limited geographic area. But I believe his current plan reaches too far, too fast," Kerry said.

"We do not yet have the critical guarantees of governance and of development capacity, the other two legs of counter-insurgency," Kerry told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

Spencer Ackerman, a senior reporter with the Washington Independent, said that Kerry now has "a tremendous amount of prestige after brokering Hamid Karzai's agreement to run in the runoff election".

"He has quite a great amount of sway - his call today was basically to do a version of McChrystal's strategy, focusing on counter-insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan. He says he would only go for more American troops only if there are enough Afghan and US civilian capacity to build on the gains that the troops make."

Helicopter deaths

During his address at Jacksonville, Obama paid tribute to 14 American service personnel killed in two helicopter crashes in Afghanistan on Monday.

"Our prayers are with these service members, their civilian colleagues and the families who loved them," Obama said.

"While no words can ease the ache in their hearts today, may they find some comfort in knowing this: like all those who give their lives in service to America, they were doing their duty and they were doing this nation proud."

Ten Americans were killed and 26 others were hurt when one helicopter crashed in western Afghanistan on Monday, security officials said.

A spokesperson for the Nato military alliance said the reason for the crash was "unconfirmed", ruling out hostile fire.

Another four US service members were killed and two others were wounded in an apparent mid-air collision between two helicopters in southern Afghanistan, Nato said in an earlier statement.

Colonel Wayne Shanks, from the US Army, said that investigations into both incidents were being hampered by "combat conditions".

"This is where we see the nexus between the insurgency and the narcotics trade," he said, adding that a dozen Taliban fighters were killed in the operation carried out by the helicopter brigade in the west of the country.

Nato and US troops are suffering the highest fatality rates since the deployment of foreign troops to Afghanistan in 2001. So far in October, more than 30 US soldiers have died.

Source: Agencies

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