Two U.S. service members were reportedly killed in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday. The U.S. military has not provided any further details into the incident, but the Taliban have claimed responsibility through a spokesman that offered the Taliban’s version of events to reporters. The Pentagon refuted the Taliban’s claims however, saying that while an investigation is underway, it does not appear as though the helicopter was brought down by enemy fire.
According to Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, the helicopter in question was a Chinook, and was shot down as U.S. and Afghan forces were preparing to launch combat operations in the area. That statement has not only been called into question by U.S. Defense officials, but also by Fawad Aman, the Afghan Defense Ministry deputy spokesman, who said that the helicopter that crashed was a smaller combat helicopter.
Other Afghan officials have also chimed in, contradicting the Taliban’s statements, including Mohammed Asif, a lawmaker from the Logar province, who said the helicopter “hit a mountainous area, and we understand that it occurred five kilometers away from a U.S. base.” This statement, along with Pentagon statements, would seem to suggest that the incident involved mechanical failure, rather than enemy fire.
It’s not at all uncommon for the Taliban to claim responsibility for an incident they actually had no hand in. In the greater game of public perceptions, it’s a win/win scenario for Taliban officials, who in this way manage to simultaneously make the organization seem more formidable while also highlighting the loss of American life.
This incident brings this year’s number of U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan to 19 — last year’s was 13. In all, more than 2,400 Americans have lost their lives in Afghanistan since the start of combat operations in the country soon after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
America’s military presence in Afghanistan has decreased over the past year, with only about 13,000 service members deployed to the country today, as opposed to the 15,000 or so at this point last year.
Two Taliban hostages, one American and one Australian, were freed by the Taliban earlier this week in exchange for three high-profile Taliban leaders from the group’s Haqqani network — a branch of the organization known particularly for targeted attacks against civilian populations. This exchange is widely seen as part of a broader effort to negotiate a peace agreement in Afghanistan that would allow the United States to withdraw its troops.
The Pentagon has not revealed the identities of the service members who died pending notification of their next of kin.