Amid U.S. President George W. Bush's resolution to keep fighting in Iraq the U.S. army seem to suffer continuous losses in the war.
Rescuers have reached the crash site of a U.S. special forces MH-47 Chinook helicopter that crashed into a rugged mountain ravine in eastern Afghanistan, but there was still no word on whether the 17 troops on board died as feared, a U.S. military spokesman was qouted as saying by the AP on Thursday.
The BBC reported on its Web site that U.S. officials told one its reporters at the main American base near the crash site that 13 bodies have been recovered, while seven other soldiers, including some that were on the ground fighting, are missing, raising the possibility they may have been captured.
American military spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore declined to comment on the report of the recovered bodies and said the military would release a new statement on the crash later Thursday.
But 48 hours after the helicopter went down, hopes were fading for those on board.
"We are at the wreckage as we speak," Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, another military spokesman, told The Associated Press. "We are conducting search and recovery operations. But we are more into the recovery stage."
The Chinook, which crashed on June 28, west of Asadabad, a town in the Kunar province, may have been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade, Marine Corps General Peter Pace told reporters in Washington yesterday, reminds Bloomberg.
Bad weather earlier had hampered rescuers' efforts, with high winds and rain preventing rescue aircraft from landing at the crash site, located at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) elevation in the Hindu Kush mountains - a restive, rugged area along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Family members of the 17 service members on the chopper have been notified that their loved ones were on the helicopter, but military officials told them the status of those on board is unknown, reports CNN.
Thursday's statement said forces were "in position to impede any enemy movement into or away from the crash site," an indication that soldiers continue to face insurgents in the area. Four Chinook helicopters were flying U.S. reinforcements to help others on the ground Tuesday when a helicopter crew saw smoke from an insurgent position - possibly indicating a missile or rocket had been fired, the officials said. Soon after, one of the helicopters went down, CNN cited the officials.
Earlier the U.S. military said Wednesday the helicopter was likely shot down by hostile fire, and the Taliban took responsibility for the attack. Asadullah Wafa, the local provincial governor, said that Taliban guerrillas had shot down the helicopter with a rocket.
An alleged Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi had telephoned AP before news of the crash was released and claimed the insurgents shot the helicopter down. The attack had been filmed and the video would be released to the media, the spokesman added.
More than 660 people have been killed in Afghanistan since March - including 465 suspected insurgents, 29 U.S. troops, 43 Afghan police and soldiers, and 125 civilians - a level unprecedented since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, notes AP.
The increase in fighting has intensified concerns that the Afghan war is widening, rather than winding down, CNN believes. U.S. and Afghan officials warn things could get worse ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
The CH-47SD International Chinook is the most advanced model of the world's most efficient heavy-lift helicopter. About 800 Chinooks are currently in service in the United States and more than 15 other nations.
The Chinook's primary missions include transport of troops, artillery, ammunition, fuel, water, barrier materials, supplies and equipment on the battlefield. Other missions include medical evacuation, aircraft recovery, fire fighting, parachute drops, heavy construction, civil development, disaster relief and search and rescue, according to Boeing.com.