Pilot dies as Taliban shoots down US chopper

 

A pilot was killed and a US passenger critically injured in southern Afghanistan today when their helicopter was shot down by rebels from the ousted Taliban militia.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Kabul initially said the pilot was British, but subsequently said there was confusion over his nationality.

 The attack happened around 60 km (40 miles) south of Kandahar.

 The helicopter belonged to US construction company Louis Berger Group Inc, which oversees reconstruction work on the main highway linking Kabul with Kandahar in the south.

The route has been plagued by attacks and kidnappings claimed by members of the hardline Islamic Taliban militia ousted from power by US-led forces in late 2001 for sheltering the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

The rebels claimed responsibility for today's attack, saying that people on board were spying on the Taliban and using the opening of a school as an excuse to fly over the area.

"When the helicopter landed we fired on it with machineguns from two sides," said Mullah Sabir Momin, Taliban deputy commander of operations for southern Afghanistan, speaking from an undisclosed location.