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Helicopter Crash Followed By Fire Fight

Aired March 4, 2002 - 09:16   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 need to transition from that glorious time in San Diego back to the Pentagon, where we have more news breaking. Barbara Starr standing by. Barbara, what's up? Good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula.

Well, now we have more details on what has occurred in Eastern Afghanistan. It was indeed very, very nasty. A U.S. helicopter was brought down by enemy fire. It then crash landed on the ground. We are told, when it crash landed, a fire fight broke out between the U.S. forces on the helicopter and forces on the ground. This is how six U.S. fatalities occurred.

But what we don't know yet, and what the Pentagon is not sure of, is how many of the men died as a result of the helicopter being hit by enemy fire and falling to the -- crash landing to the ground, and how many may have died in this very close and very nasty fire fight that ensued when the helicopter crash landed on the ground. We are also told as a result of that, there are 10 or more U.S. soldiers who were wounded.

Now we are also learning that there was another incident before this occurred, another helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade or weapon of some sort. That helicopter made it back to land near Gardez, but they learned subsequently one crew member on that helicopter died in some circumstance of combat they're not sure about yet. He may have fallen out of the helicopter, he may have been hit on the ground. They just aren't sure. So at the moment, from these two incidents, we have seven U.S. fatalities, one soldier, of course, was killed over the weekend in the opening hours of this fight. So a total of eight U.S. fatalities in Eastern Afghanistan now -- Paula.

ZAHN: Barbara, I know you say that the Pentagon can't confirm what brought down that first helicopter, but what is the most widely believed scenario?

STARR: Well...

ZAHN: A surface-to-air missile?

STARR: Up in this whole area, in fact, there is a lot of small arms fire from the Taliban and the al Qaeda who are holed up there. And even more than just small arms, of course, they have got mortars, they've grenades, they've artillery up there. U.S. airstrikes have been trying to deal with all of those enemy positions, and now we are told, as we speak, U.S. forces are repositioning -- the ground troops are repositioning back a little bit so airstrikes can be called in to soften up some of these enemy positions.

ZAHN: All right, let me just clarify one other thing, Barbara. With the second situation, with the second helicopter, you talked about the fatality on that, and we're not sure what that is related to. Was there any indication when that helicopter successfully landed, that any ground fire ensued?

STARR: Not that there was ground fire, but that helicopter was hit by -- they believe a rocket-propelled grenade or some type of rocket-propelled weapon. And so they knew it had been hit by enemy fire. But wasn't, apparently, until some period after that that they realized they had suffered a fatality as well. And, of course, what we should emphasize is, all of this information is somewhat preliminary. It's -- heavy combat is under way as we speak, and the Pentagon is warning us, all of these details could change. They do know they have fatalities, they do know it is seven, but the details and the circumstances may still emerge in the hours ahead -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Barbara Starr. We will continue to come back to you as soon as more information becomes available. Thank you for that update.

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