Taliban capture US helicopter parts
By Hamid Mir
ISLAMABAD: In a startling operation that shook the Pentagon, the White House and the US administration some weeks back, the Taliban in the tribal areas captured parts of three US helicopters — Chinook, Black Hawk and Cobra — while they were being shipped in huge containers from Peshawar to Jalalabad in Afghanistan.
Pakistani officials have confirmed the capture while the US diplomats stationed in Islamabad are trying to fudge the issue without denying it outright. US embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Colton commented: "The embassy has no comment on this as the information appears to be only hearsay."
When this correspondent informed the embassy spokesperson that he had seen pictures of the stolen parts of helicopters, she again said "no comment". Some diplomats in Islamabad are very much aware of this recent Taliban operation but they were not ready to speak on record.
Diplomatic sources say the recent US air strike in the tribal areas was actually an attack on the location where the unassembled parts of the two helicopters, owned by the US armed forces, were stored by the Taliban.
Sources told The News US Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher was to visit Pakistan and Afghanistan soon in view of the situation in the region. What is shocking is the revelation that the US forces were transporting helicopters in unassembled form in containers, which landed at the Karachi Port and travelled all the way by road to Peshawar and then entered the tribal areas for onward journey to Afghanistan.
When these containers entered the Khyber Agency at Jamrud, the Taliban stopped the convoys and took away the helicopter parts. Pakistani paramilitary forces in the area tried to confront the Taliban but they suffered heavy losses due to darkness. This happened in the same area where Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Tariq Azizuddin was kidnapped in February this year.
Chinook and Black Hawk were captured recently while the Cobra was hijacked some weeks back. When the Taliban first captured the Cobra helicopter, they filmed all the stolen parts and supplied the CD to their allies in Afghanistan.
Some people in the Farah province of western Afghanistan showed interest in purchasing the Cobra helicopter and subsequently its parts were smuggled to Farah. Taliban sold this Cobra to an unidentified customer for several hundred thousand dollars.
Following the latest ground hijacking, the Taliban have again filmed all the stolen parts of CH-47 Chinook and Black Hawk choppers. Chinook is a versatile twin-engine helicopter that was also used to help the earthquake victims in Kashmir in October 2005 by the US Army.
The Taliban have again sent the CD to people for attracting customers from neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. They do not seem to have hit any customer as the stolen parts with extra engines are still in their custody.
The Taliban captured some unexploded Tomahawk missiles in the Khost area of eastern Afghanistan in 1998. These missiles were fired on al-Qaeda hideouts after attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Taliban handed over some of the unexploded US missiles to the Chinese in 1998.
Top US military officials have demanded recently from Pakistan to start an operation in the tribal areas for the recovery of their stolen helicopters. They have expressed concern that instead of initiating an operation against the Taliban, the new government is negotiating peace with the Taliban.
Concerned officials in the Foreign Office were of the opinion that the Taliban had increased their attacks in Afghanistan recently due to the incompetence of the Afghan National Army and the Nato forces.
The Taliban used a fuel tanker packed with 1800 kg of explosives a few days ago to break a jail in Kandahar. They got released their 400 comrades along with 1,100 other prisoners in that operation.
On Tuesday, the Taliban captured Arghundab district of Kandahar province. It was also a big blow to the credibility of Nato and the Karzai government but now both of them are trying to divert the international attention by threatening to attack the Pakistani border areas.
The Taliban have recently conducted bloody operations against the Nato forces in Shenwro district of Parwaon province in the north, Taren Kot city of Uruzgan province in the south and Poli Alm city of Logar province close to Kabul.
All these are not close to the Pakistani borders and the Taliban were attacking the Nato with the help of the local population.
It was learnt that the high command of Pakistani security forces has requested the government for permission to respond in a hard-hitting manner to any attack from Afghanistan in future.
Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher would visit Pakistan and Afghanistan shortly. It is expected that he would try to narrow down the differences between Islamabad and Kabul.
Click to view image: '192602-ah1cobra.jpg'
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