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14 Americans Killed In Afghan Crashes

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, some more details about those helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, which killed 14 Americans. One occurred in western Afghanistan, the other in the south.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is in southern Afghanistan, and he joins us now. Tom, what do we know about these incidents, first, the one near you in the south of the country?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, the first one happened not far from where we are at a Marine combat outpost in Helmand province. And we believe that the helicopters collided about six miles away from where we are. Helicopters were a Marine Cobra gunship and a Heuy helicopter. And we heard explosions from where we are and aircraft overhead well into the night. And apparently, insurgents tried to get close to the site and then they brought in an Air Force AC-130 gunship to fire at the insurgents. And in that incident, four were killed and two injured.

SIEGEL: And the incident in western Afghanistan?

BOWMAN: Well, that involved DEA agents in U.S. forces taking part in a raid on an insurgent compound with possible links to narcotics trafficking. They got into a firefight and as the helicopter lifted off after the firefight, it came down hard and seven military personnel were killed and three U.S. civilians were killed.

SIEGEL: What are the DEA agents doing in Afghanistan, Tom?

BOWMAN: Well, they're taking part in going after narcotics. It's a prime source of funding for the Taliban. There were a couple of dozen DEA agents here earlier in the year. They're beefing up their presence to well over 84 now, we're told. And they're also drawing up lists of top narcotics traffickers in Afghanistan and going after them, along with U.S. military personnel. And they also bring kits along with them to test for drugs and then seize drugs and, also, bomb-making equipment often.

SIEGEL: Now, back to the incident in the Helmand province in the south, how rare is a collision between two helicopters?

BOWMAN: It's very rare. Usually in instances involving helicopters, there's usually mechanical failure, sometimes hostile fire. But it's very, very rare to see a collision. And people I talk with here can't recall a similar incident. They say maybe in Iraq three, four or five years ago, there were maybe a collision, but they can't recall of one in Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: What is not known yet about these incidents? What are people still trying to figure out?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know exactly what caused the helicopter that was part of the DEA and military mission to crash. And we don't know which American unit was taking part in that operation as well. And we also don't have a sense of those wounded, more than a dozen wounded, how serious their wounds are.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Bowman, whom we reached in southern Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
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