Two U.S. helicopters fired on over Pakistan; another lost wheels in commando raid

Tuesday, October 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two U.S. helicopters came under fire in Pakistan as their crews attempted to retrieve the wreckage of another helicopter that had crashed during a covert weekend commando raid, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

And officials acknowledged that yet another aircraft lost its wheels during that undercover raid but returned safely to its base.

In Monday's shooting incident, the retrieval crews were transporting a Black Hawk helicopter that had crashed, killing two Rangers Friday, the same night that more than 100 special forces raided an airfield and a Taliban compound in southern Afghanistan. Officials have said the Black Hawk was at the ready to swoop into Afghanistan to rescue any special forces that might get into trouble.

The retrieval crew Monday returned fire and left the area, also leaving behind the Black Hawk wreckage it was trying to pick up, said Lt. Col. George Rhynedance, a Pentagon spokesman.

Rhyndance said the U.S. crew came under light, sporadic small-arms fire and that officials didn't know who did the shooting. But it is the most hostile act reported so far against Americans in Pakistan.

The incident comes amid continuing demonstrations by Islamic militants in Pakistan who want to expel Americans supporting the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. The U.S. aim is to root out terrorist networks associated with Osama bin Laden, top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

Near one Pakistani base being used by U.S. personnel, police Tuesday erected blockades and sandbag bunkers against mass demonstrations after militants vowed to storm the facility. More than 100 people had been arrested by midmorning after a protest at Jacobabad, site of Shahbaz Air Base.

Rhynedance declined to say where Monday's shooting incident occurred but said it was brief ``and what we are considering harassing fire.''

He said the United States was asking through diplomatic channels that Pakistan investigate.

``Pakistan has been giving us outstanding support within the limits of what it has agreed to do'' in the anti-terrorism campaign Rhynedance said. Pakistan is helping with intelligence and allowing use of its airspace and some fields, but has said it will not allow attacks from its territory into Afghanistan.

Members of the retrieval crews were taking the wreckage in a sling under another helicopter and stopped for a scheduled refueling on their way back to their base, which Rhynedance also declined to identify. In order to land for the refueling, they had set the wreckage down and left it there for later pickup when the shooting started, Rhynedance said.

Meanwhile, Rhynedance said an American MH47 Chinook helicopter lost its front wheels and a piece of undercarriage when it hit something during the Friday raid.

The Taliban militia that control most of Afghanistan have said that two U.S. helicopters were shot down during the raid, a claim Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld denied.

Video footage from the Al-Jazeera television network showed people gathered around several large wheels that the Taliban said were a downed helicopter's landing gear.

The Chinook hit a wall or barrier as it was taking special forces into Afghanistan Friday, Rhynedance said Tuesday. He said there were no injuries to troops and no other damage to the helicopter.

The troops were able to finish their mission and return to their base, which he declined to identify. He also declined to say whether the accident occurred during the assault on the compound of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar compound or the simultaneous one at the airfield.