Tags: Two | Marines | Killed | Helicopter | Downing

Two Marines Killed In Helicopter Downing

Sunday, 20 January 2002 12:00 AM

The five survivors have been moved to medical facilities and an investigation is under way to find the cause of the incident.

The downing took place south of Bagram airbase, near the Afghan capital Kabul, and involved one of the largest military helicopters in service, a CH-53E Super Stallion triple-engine helicopter capable of lifting 16 tons of cargo.

A Marine spokesman had earlier characterized the incident as a crash, but later described it as a "hard landing."

U.S. officials said it was too early to say whether the crash was an accident or the result of hostile fire.

Of the survivors, two were in critical condition and two others in serious condition, officials said.

Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne (Assault) Division, meanwhile, continued to flow into Kandahar airport from Fort Campbell, Ky., relieving the Marines who have held the facility since mid-December, following the defeat of Taliban forces by U.S.-backed opposition troops.

Marine 1st Lt. James Jarvis said the Super Stallion, carrying seven Marines, crashed about 7:30 a.m. local time (10 p.m. EST) while on a resupply mission out of Bagram airbase.

"It crashed in a very rugged, high-elevation” location, Jarvis said, but the cause of the incident was still undetermined.

U.S. Marines officially handed over control of Kandahar airport to the Army Saturday in a phased transfer. Army Col. Frank Wiercinski, commander of the 3rd BCT, said its mission was first to maintain security at the airport, and later "be prepared to conduct a full spectrum” of operations it may be tasked to perform by Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command, who is in charge of the theater of operations.

Military sources said about 3,600 troops of all services are currently at Kandahar. Some 800-1,000 are part of the 101st, which will eventually have a force on the ground between 2,000 and 2,500. The BCT, in addition to infantry, also has engineering, logistics and aviation (helicopter) components, giving it flexibility.

Nearly every half hour, what few windows in the airport terminal are left, rattle as the 101st’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams destroy collected mines, unexploded bombs and shells and ammunition.

Wiercinski, who described conditions at the airport as "austere” -- no heat, no sewage, no power, no cover -- said the 101st hopes to build infrastructure at the airport -- built in the 1970s with U.S. aid and technical assistance -- so "we can leave it better than we found it.”

The airport was the scene of fierce fighting between the Taliban and opposition forces. The area is still heavily mined. Some fields that are known are being left in place as added security against incursions by Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorism network fighters who have either melted into the civilian population of Kandahar City or may be holed up in the nearby hills that form a brown spine running along the length of the runway.

Estimates of the number of landmines seeded in Afghanistan over the years, including the 1980s war against Soviet occupation forces, run between 10 million and 15 million.

"Everything not paved or plowed is considered a minefield,” Capt. Ignacio Perez, of the 101st’s 2nd Battalion, 187th Infantry, said. Mines cleared were surface mines -- many others are still below the surface and may have shifted in the years since first planted.

A Marine who recently lost a foot to a mine, did so in an area that had been previously swept for surface mines.

In addition, there is constant danger of snipers, who recently fired on an aircraft as it left Kandahar to transfer al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners to the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for eventual trial before military tribunals.

Just about one-and-a-half weeks ago, a cache of arms mortars and rocket-propelled grenades was found near the airport in a cave hidden under the rubble of a destroyed adobe structure. The find followed the citing of seven men around the destroyed building.

About 232 detainees are still being held in a closely guarded compound at the airport and are being questioned by U.S. officials. Also, unidentified people constantly approach the airport perimeter at night, presumably out of curiosity or to test U.S. responses.

Throughout Sunday, Air Force C-17 cargo planes from Europe and elsewhere steadily streamed into Kandahar, dropping off Army troops and bringing in supplies. Although the flow is steady, it is also slow. Kandahar’s runway and apron areas, due to bombing during the war and lack of space, can only accommodate two aircraft on the ground at any given time.

Sunday marked the first time transport aircraft were allowed to take off and land at Kandahar in daylight. Marines were departing by helicopter for ships that are cruising in the Arabian Sea.

Incoming soldiers here are repeatedly briefed on dangers of their assignment including landmines and sniper activity; diseases, swirling dust and the sure promise of stomach disorders.

Troops are also instructed on how to interact with Afghans contracted through the local opposition force commander to help with building and other tasks at the airport. About 100 local workers were hand-selected by the opposition, said Army Capt. Sara Pollok and have proved reliable and trustworthy.

The soldiers were instructed to be friendly, but also to stay on their toes and report any suspicious activity to their commanders.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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The five survivors have been moved to medical facilities and an investigation is under way to find the cause of the incident. The downing took place south of Bagram airbase, near the Afghan capital Kabul, and involved one of the largest military helicopters in service, a...
Sunday, 20 January 2002 12:00 AM
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