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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S Casualties Reported

Aired March 4, 2002 - 08:29   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some breaking news for you at this hour -- American casualties in a downed helicopter. Let's go -- crash that is. It is-- Barbara Starr waiting for us at the Pentagon with the latest information -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Yes, we are now told it is confirmed a U.S. helicopter was brought down by enemy fire in Eastern Afghanistan. Those are the words that military officials are using this morning. The exact circumstances are not known. It is said there are multiple fatalities, although the initial word is that not everyone on board that helicopter died.

Like anything else, we should caution in these types of situations, the first word often is incomplete and we do expect more details over the next couple of hours. We are told that officials don't believe it was an Apache helicopter. These are the gunships that have taken some enemy fire in the last few days in this area, although none of them have been brought down.

It is believed it was a Chinook, an Army Chinook helicopter, carrying multiple troops into the area. So again, we do expect more confirmed word from the Pentagon as to the exact number of fatalities and the circumstances under which this occurred, but a U.S. helicopter has been brought down by enemy fire in Eastern Afghanistan, and there are number fatalities -- Paula.

ZAHN: Barbara, are you familiar with how many soldiers you could possibly carry on a Chinook?

STARR: Well, that really varies widely, depending on what the exact mission was at the time. It can carry up to a couple of dozen troops into a zone, but often they also carry equipment. They may carry some Special Forces that are especially equipped. It's just very hard to tell what was going on when this happened. It's also possible they were taking troops out of the area. There have been many, many injured soldiers and they are being Medivaced out as quickly as possible. It's all apparently getting very nasty up there, and it's just hard to know right now exactly what has transpired.

ZAHN: Obviously, you reported earlier this is nothing that the Pentagon wanted, but I guess over the weekend everybody fully expected things were getting worse, as you might say. How might this affect long-term strategy there?

STARR: Well the Pentagon is making the case, of course, that this enclave of Taliban and al Qaeda, which numbered perhaps in several hundred, had to be dealt with eventually in order for there to be real stability in Afghanistan. They couldn't let them linger there. They had a lot of weapons.

They were massing. They were close to the Pakistan border. There was always the possibility some of these al Qaeda would escape into Pakistan. That wouldn't be something the U.S. would want to see. They had this whole area under surveillance for many, many weeks. They had been assembling local Afghan fighters to lead the fight and go in, so those Afghans would have a stake in solving this problem. The U.S. administration view is that this had to be dealt with sooner or later, and they had always -- they will tell you they had always warned that Afghanistan was a dangerous place and it would eventually get nasty -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you for that report. We'll come back to you as soon as you have more information available.

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