ISAF confirms Taliban downing of US helicopter in Zabul

The Taliban ws responsible for downing a US Army Blackhawk helicopter in the southern Afghan province of Zabul on Dec. 17, 2013, the International Security Assistance Force has confirmed. The helicopter may have been brought down by an anti-helicopter mine such as one tested by the Islamic Jihad Union, an al Qaeda-linked group known to operate in the province.

When the helicopter crashed on Dec. 17, ISAF said that “initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.” The Taliban immediately claimed credit for the attack on their website, Voice of Jihad, however, stating that “Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate have shot down the helicopter of foreign troops.” [See Threat Matrix report, Taliban claim credit for ISAF helo crash in Afghan south.]

Two days ago, ISAF told CNN that “the families of the soldiers killed in the December 17 helicopter crash have been notified that ‘enemy action caused the crash and loss of life,'” Stars and Stripes reported. Five US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division and another from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment were killed in the Taliban attack.

The exact cause of the downing of the helicopter has not been disclosed. Three US military officials told CNN that “the Taliban has been deemed responsible — either by shooting the helicopter or if the low-flying aircraft set off a bomb hidden on the ground.”

In the past, the Taliban has successfully shot down US helicopters with rocket-propelled grenades. The most significant shootdown took place in August 2011 in the Tangi Valley in Wardak province. Taliban RPGs struck a US Army Chinook that was involved in a raid to capture a senior Taliban commander; the attack resulted in the deaths of 38 US and Afghan troops, including 17 Navy SEALs from SEAL Team 6.

While Taliban-fired RPGs have been credited with downing ISAF helicopters, jihadists in Afghanistan have also advertised the testing of what they described as an “anti-helicopter fragmentation mine” designed to take out US Army Apache attack helicopters. In July 2013, the IJU, an offshoot of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, displayed one such weapon in a video about its operations in Paktika province. [See LWJ report, Islamic Jihad Union fighters attack US base, plant ‘anti-helicopter’ mine.] The IMU and al Qaeda are known to operate in Zabul; members often serve as embedded military trainers to Taliban forces. [See LWJ report, Al Qaeda’s paramilitary ‘Shadow Army’.]

In one scene of the IJU video, the jihadist fighters are shown carrying what the SITE Intelligence Group described as “the prototype for an anti-helicopter fragmentation mine.”

“The mine can hit a target at a distance of 300 meters,” the IJU video states. The cameraman describes the anti-helicopter fragmentation mine as an “unpleasant surprise” for the US helicopter crews. The IJU narrator indicates, however, that the mine was not fired.

If the Dec. 17, 2013 helicopter crash is determined to have been caused by an anti-helicopter fragmentation mine, it would be the first successful attack of its kind reported in Afghanistan. It would also indicate that ISAF forces, which are relying more on helicopters for support as Western forces continue to draw down, face a new threat from the Taliban and allied groups in Afghanistan.

IJU anti-helicopter fragmentation mine from its July 2013 video:


Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • James says:

    Bill, I believe you make a mistake in the last sentence of paragraph 5 of the above article. From what I recall in published sources at the time of the attack, the casualties did not come from Seal Team 6 but came from a different numbered Seal team.
    I’ve been posting over and over again over the years on this Board that Karzai needs to be gotten rid of. Why are we relying on slow-moving and low-flying helicopters to carry out such attacks? Wouldn’t these kind of attacks be better executed by medium or low altitude attack jet aircraft with much less risk to the safety of our soldiers?
    Karzai is nothing but a grand mal taliban/aq appeaser of the lowest sort. Karzai needs to be ‘gotten rid of’ ‘removed from power’ or as I like to say it just plain ‘eliminated’.
    Is this where some ‘politically correct’ commanders on the ground or politicians in DC are keeping our guys from using jet aircraft to prevent purported ‘collateral damage’, just to appease these losers like Karzai?
    I say again that these thugs need to be outright eliminated. They don’t need to be captured (for any supposed ‘intel’ value). The risk to the lives and safety of our troops in my opinion is just not worth it.

  • 5150 says:

    Those anti-helicopter mines (AHM), or vertical/directional fragmentation mines, are nasty little implements. The Russians have produced acoustic versions which autonomously detect and simultaneously engage airborne helos. They can hit a rotary target at a confirmed distance of 200 meters.
    The crude model pictured above was rumored to be effective up to 300 meters. Although it is highly unlikely that the corresponding SITE Intelligence-translated kill radius assertion may be valid, it is still frightening to comprehend that a devastating munition is employed by the enemy.

  • Evan says:

    At first glance, this weapon appears to be what is basically a mortar/artillery shell in a launcher designed to be set off by a helo. That could explain the range estimate given of 300 m.
    The entire casing of the round is submerged inside of the launcher, only the conical warhead is exposed.
    How efficient would launching a shell like this be?

  • JT says:

    Something to consider, nowhere in the write-up is mentioned exactly what type of mission the ‘Hawks were conducting. So, that being said, how can you be certain that the mission could be conducted by fast movers? Moreso, most Blackhawks are not configured as attack aircraft, so more often than not fast movers could not perform any of the same mission set that a Blackhawk fulfills. The only somewhat-fixed wing that can fill the assault role, as is the primary mission of a Blackhawk in a combat context, is an Osprey, and those are even more vulnerable in the terminal portion of an infil. Additionally, weather at altitude, visual range and angle all impact the ability of jets to do the same missions that helicopters do, particularly in mountainous terrain.

  • blert says:

    These static weapons are amped up versions of the German “Bouncing Betty” — the S Mine.
    “The German S-mine (Schrapnellmine, Springmine or Splittermine in German), also known as the “Bouncing Betty”, is the best-known version of a class of mines known as bounding mines. When triggered, these mines launch into the air and then detonate at about 0.9 meters (2 ft 11 in). The explosion projects a lethal spray of shrapnel in all directions.” Wiki
    The most obvious way to frustrate such a device is to spoof it with an acoustic signature.
    Drone ‘pilot’ helicopters must be considered. These would be scaled down drones that have speakers that make them sound like the real McCoy.
    The other gambit is to STOP using the exact same flight paths – – especially near a base — for such habits induce command-detonated “Super-Bettys.”

  • esdguru08 says:

    Our company was a subcontractor on the “bat” sub-munition, which was an attempt to provide acoustic guidance toward a ground target. The munition was complicated, costly, and was soon superceded by other devices. We submitted a patent application for a ground-based-version weapon, similar to this A/H device, but were told it had already been patented and tried. It looks like the Russians and the Taliban are re-inventing decades-old technology.

  • John Christopher sunol says:

    I beleive that this is not going to stop when the United states leaves Aphganistan soon,. I think tht the war is far from over

  • 5150 says:

    Thirty individuals (and a military working dog) from different operational backgrounds unfortunately lost their lives during that tragic incident. Part of that loss was suffered by fifteen US Navy SEALs from US Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) — also referred to as “SEAL Team Six” — Gold Squadron. According to some inside sources (, the fifteen Gold Squadron operators KIA did not belong to the same squad which took down OBL and compound’s embedded combatants.

  • James says:

    JT, thanks for the clarification. Obviously, you know much more about the intricacies of the topic than I do.
    That being said, what can we do (or, at least suggest be done) to mitigate the threat?

  • Rajesh Kota says:

    I too I believe that this is not going to stop when the United states leaves Afhganistan soon…


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