Most U.S. military helicopter crashes in Afghanistan have resulted from human error, bad weather, and mechanical problems rather than insurgent attacks — but the assaults were more deadly, reports USA Today
Citing U.S. Army records, the newspaper reported a total of 29 helicopter crashes in Afghanistan between January 2009 and mid-September.
Although insurgents accounted for six of the downed aircraft, including the Chinook that recently killed 30 U.S. service members, the other crashes were not attributed to hostile fire, the records show.
However, the crashes resulting from insurgent attacks proved more deadly, killing 34 troops, including 30 aboard the Chinook on Aug. 5. Eighteen U.S. troops and one civilian perished in the accidental crashes.
Helicopter pilots fly a total of about 50,000 missions a year in Afghanistan, according to Lt. Col. Christopher Kasker, an Army spokesman who described helicopters as vital to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. The country has few paved roads but vast areas of desert and mountains, so the military relies on helicopters to move troops and to perform rescue operations.
Most of the accidental crashes involved Kiowas, which are used for scouting missions and to support combat operations. Insurgents shot down three Kiowas, also the most in that category. Armed with missile launchers and .50-caliber machine guns, Kiowas carry two crew members.
John Pike, executive director of Globalsecurity.org, a defense policy group, told USA Today that the conditions in Afghanistan present particular difficulties for helicopter pilots. The combination of “hot, high, and dusty” conditions often can deprive engines of power, damage sensitive helicopter components and reduce pilot vision.
"It's just a fact of life that helicopters are accident prone," Pike said.
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