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Nic Robertson: Checking out Taliban claims of downed U.S. craft

CNN's Nic Robertson
CNN's Nic Robertson  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- U.S. defense officials are vehemently denying a Taliban claim that its forces shot down a U.S. military helicopter near Kandahar over the weekend.

On Monday, Taliban officials showed a CNN crew what it claims is part of the downed aircraft.

CNN's Nic Robertson has been following the story from Islamabad.

ROBERTSON: Our staff in Kandahar say that the Taliban told them late Sunday night that they'd shot down an aircraft. They didn't say whether it was a plane or a helicopter. And they told our staff that they would be able to see this aircraft.

In the morning, what the Taliban did was bring parts of this aircraft to our staff, and our staff was able to film it. And what they say they were able to see and what they had in front of them were four wheels and tires, they say, and other assorted bits of wreckage.

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They say that two of these wheels were attached together, and they say that they were too heavy for one person to carry. They say that the equipment looked as if it were new, that there was a shock absorber-type piece of equipment there, that it was all well-greased.

They say that on this equipment they could see markings indicating a U.S. manufacturer of this equipment, but they say that the Taliban obviously said to them that this was from a military aircraft. But our staff there say only that they've been able to see these tiny parts of wreckage, and certainly they say they appear to be from an American aircraft, but they are not being allowed to go to the site where the Taliban said they shot this thing down.

The Taliban say that the area is mined, that it's very close to a compound belonging to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and that they believe that if they take a group of journalists out into this desert area, they say that they could become a target.

So from the perspective of our staff who've been able to see that equipment, they say that it looks like aircraft equipment. It looks like it is of U.S. origin. But, of course, they're not in a position to say whether it's from a military aircraft or exactly what it's from.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is clamping down on one of the larger Islamic parties here. This party, the Jamaat-e-Islam, held a big demonstration just outside the capital, Islamabad, on Sunday. Pakistani officials say that at that demonstration, a leader of the party called on soldiers in Pakistan's army to rise against the government. The Pakistani government says it won't stand for that. They say they've arrested some 50 members of this party.

The party is responding to this. The Jamaat-e-Islam says that it will try and organize a march in a city some three or four hours drive south of here later Monday. The police are saying that they are not going to brook any trouble from this organization at this time. Of course, we've heard about rallies being organized by these Islamic parties before. They've been of variable size. But so far, the Pakistani government has had no problem controlling them.

CNN: The Pentagon actually admitted that there was a helicopter crash, but they were saying it was not the result of a shootdown of any kind. It happened, they believe, possibly because of some dust being kicked up by a helicopter, and they say that happened in Pakistan.

Is it possible that they could be talking here about the same craft? Are the two areas that they're talking about in these two different instances the same region, the same area, or what?

ROBERTSON: I think any conclusions we try and draw at this stage could be speculation. The two locations are perhaps about 100 to 200 miles apart because we don't know exactly where this helicopter came down in Pakistan, only it came down in ... a large desert region.

If the helicopter, the parts of which may have been put on display Monday in Afghanistan, was damaged, if those wheels came off that helicopter inside Afghanistan, it is not inconceivable that that helicopter was able to fly to Pakistan and maybe crashed there.

But it is all speculation. Even at this stage, we cannot 100 percent verify that what our staff is being shown really are parts from the military aircraft or helicopter. They say that they can see that they appear to be from a military aircraft and that they appear to have U.S. markings. But they're not in a position to do any real tests to prove that they are from a U.S. warplane or helicopter at this stage.


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