Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand

Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand
The two Soviet-era Mi-17 helicopters crashed due to technical problems while taking off in Nawa district. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 14 October 2020

Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand

Afghan army helicopter crash kills nine in Helmand
  • The helicopters had been assigned to drop off new troops and evacuate soldiers who had been wounded during an overnight attack in Nawa
  • Afghan forces in the province, backed by US aerial support, have been fighting to block Taliban attacks that have displaced nearly 35,000 people

KABUL: An investigation is underway after two Afghan army helicopters crashed in southern Helmand province on Wednesday, killing nine people on board.

The MI-17 helicopters went down due to technical issues while they were taking off in Nawa district after 1 a.m., the Defense Ministry in Kabul said.

“Unfortunately nine individuals on board were martyred in the crash and the Defense Ministry is investigating the incident,” the statement added.

Afghan forces in the province, backed by US aerial support, have been fighting to block Taliban attacks that have displaced nearly 35,000 people in the past three days alone.

Omer Zwak, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor, said the helicopters had been assigned to drop off new troops and evacuate soldiers who had been wounded during an overnight attack in Nawa, which serves as the gateway to Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s  capital.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the incident, officials blame the Taliban for the rise in attacks across the country and province.

“Additional troops and commandos have been deployed to join the fighting,” Zwak told Arab News. “The Taliban have been pushed back from some areas, and we have redeployed troops to some post from where we had a tactical withdrawal.”

He added that Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid was on his way to Helmand, which lies 693 km from Kabul, to “review the situation” in the province.

The Taliban is alleged to have launched a multi-pronged attack to capture Lashkar Gah since Sunday, seizing several security checkpoints in the area as part of the initiative.

A spokesperson for the armed group was unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Wednesday.

The uptick in attacks has added to the woes of Helmand residents as fighting has displaced tens of thousands of them since Sunday, according to a UN statement.

“Fighting between the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and a non-state armed group (NSAG) that started on 11 October continues to intensify near Lashkargah city in Helmand province,” the organization said Tuesday. “Local authorities report that some 35,000 people have been displaced into Lashkargah city.”

It added that the worst affected areas in the province were: Nahr-e-Saraj, Bolan, Babaje, Nad-e-Ali/Marja and Nawa-e-Barakzaiy. Some parts of Maywand district in Kandahar had also been affected.

The surge in strikes has disrupted power and telecommunication services in the area, with people finding it difficult to access mobile phone networks.

“The main highway running through Helmand, linking it with adjacent provinces, has been blocked due to fighting since Monday,” Helmand lawmaker Ghulam Wali Afghan told Arab News. “Those displaced live a miserable life. They have no shelter or food. The numbers of those forced to leave their houses are not in the tens or hundreds, they are in the thousands.”

Sayed Mohammad Ramin, head of the refugee department for the government in Helmand, said the displaced had not received any assistance from authorities or aid groups.

“Many live in the open air,” he told Arab News. “They have no food, shelter or water. We asked the traders and people to help at least those with kids and women, and fortunately, those who had the means have come forward and have helped.”

The UN said health facilities had also reported “hundreds of casualties” since Oct. 12, while local officials said several Taliban, Afghan forces and civilians had been killed in the attacks.

But the UN and Afghan officials did not provide an approximate number of casualties.

The spike in attacks comes as intra-Afghan talks continue in Doha based on an historic accord signed with the US in February.

The Taliban, at that time, pledged to refrain from violence or attacks on US-led troops, with Washington saying it would reciprocate the commitment.

However the Afghan army, while accusing the insurgent group of being “inconsistent” in its commitments, said it had carried out aerial attacks on Taliban positions during the current wave of fighting in Helmand.

It follows the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, and the US ambassador Ross Wilson urging the Taliban to halt its offensive.

There is a stalemate in the Doha talks, which began on Sept. 12, and the government and Taliban negotiators have yet to agree on a mechanism to end more than four decades of war in the country.

Former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan, Ahmad Saeedi, said the talks had emboldened the Taliban and “given it the feeling” that it could gain political concessions at the negotiating table.

“The other thing that has emboldened the Taliban is the announcement by Trump last week that it will pull the troops by Christmas," he told Arab News, referring to Washington's pledge to withdraw forces earlier than planned. “Since the announcement, I have learnt that some officials in provinces have been trying to get in touch with the Taliban for making a deal too. The announcement has brought down the morale of some soldiers and commanders and weakened some of them.”

Related


Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Updated 55 min 35 sec ago

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park

Pygmies, soldier killed in clashes over DR Congo park
  • In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the perimeter of Kahuzi-Biega National Park and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal
  • According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the habitat of endangered gorillas

BUKAVU, DR Congo: Three Pygmies and a soldier were killed in clashes near DR Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, military sources and local officials said Wednesday, as calls grow for protection of the country’s indigenous peoples.
The national park, which celebrated its 50th anniversary on Monday, is a haven for critically endangered gorillas but faces an emerging threat from a conflict between rangers and local Pygmies, who claim they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s.
The central African country’s parliament is currently considering a law to guarantee the rights of Pygmies.
Clashes erupted on Monday in the nearby village of Kabamba in South Kivu province, military sources and the territory’s administrator Thadee Miderho said Wednesday.
In addition to the four killed, others were wounded, they said.
The Pygmies wanted to retrieve bags of charcoal seized by the military, according to Miderho.
In 2018, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal.
According to park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed vast acres of woodland — an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat.
Their return led to open conflict between Pygmies and rangers in which people on both sides have been killed.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park celebrated 50 years of existence on Monday, priding itself as “a sanctuary and refuge” of eastern lowland gorillas.
Meanwhile a civil society group in the territory of Kabare wrote an open letter to UNESCO asking for it to help “save” the Pygmies.
“Fifty years later, the existence of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park = 50 years of suffering of our Pygmies brothers and sisters,” the group wrote.
In the capital Kinshasa, the National Assembly passed a bill on November 26 for the “protection and promotion of the rights of the indigenous Pygmy peoples,” which will now be considered by the Senate.
“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, unlike other indigenous ethnic groups, the Pygmies have not always received special attention as an indigenous group,” parliament acknowledged in a memorandum.
The proposed law guarantees the recognition of the culture of the Pygmies, easy access to justice and social services, and “full access to the land.”