KABUL — The Taliban insisted Thursday that the fighters who shot down a US helicopter, killing 38 troops in Afghanistan, were still alive, despite a US announcement that they had been killed.
US General John Allen, commander of the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan, said Wednesday that those responsible for the biggest single loss of American life in the 10-year war had been killed in an air strike.
But Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP: "This is not true. After seeing the enemy statement, we contacted the mujahed (fighter) who shot down the helicopter and he's not dead. He's busy conducting jihad elsewhere in the country."
Speaking by telephone from an undisclosed location, Mujahid said four "ordinary" Taliban fighters had been killed in the US air strike but that they had not been the ones who shot down the helicopter.
He also said the fighter responsible had since left Wardak province, where the crash took place in the restive district of Sayd Abad.
The Taliban is known to exaggerate and distort its public statements as part of a propaganda campaign accompanying its 10-year campaign to evict the US-led troops who ousted it from power in the 2001 invasion.
Thirty US troops, including 25 members of the elite special forces, were killed with seven Afghan commandos and an interpreter in the crash last week.
It was the deadliest single incident for the US-led force in the decade-long Afghanistan war.
Citing intelligence, a senior Afghan official told AFP on condition of anonymity this week that the helicopter was brought down in a Taliban trap designed to lure international forces to the scene.
Allen said the Chinook had been sent in as part of an operation targeting a Taliban leader, who is still at large.
"The intelligence that had been generated to this point led us to believe there was an enemy network in the Tangi Valley in the Wardak province, and the purpose of this mission was to go after the leadership of that network," the general said.
When "less than 10" insurgent fighters were seen "escaping," the Chinook helicopter was ordered in to head them off, he said.
The CH-47 was then shot out of the sky with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing all 38 people on board.
Afterwards, US forces tracked the insurgents responsible, calling in an air strike late Monday with an F-16 fighter.
The insurgents were traced over the weekend to a wooded area elsewhere in Wardak "after an exhaustive manhunt" by special forces, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
The air strike killed the "shooter" as well as a Taliban militant, Mullah Mohibullah, as they "were attempting to flee the country in order to avoid capture," ISAF said.