The Taliban claimed it shot down an Afghan military helicopter in the western province of Farah yesterday. Afghan officials denied the helicopter was shot – and instead claimed it crashed due to a mechanical failure. Regardless, the Afghan military was unable to secure the crash site and recover the five soldiers on-board for at least 10 hours after the helicopter went down.
Afghan officials confirmed that the helicopter crashed at about 9 p.m. local time on Sept. 14 in the district of Khaki Safid in Farah, according to TOLONews. A spokesman for the governor of Farah province said that the helicopter “crashed due to a technical issue, not due to Taliban fire,” Reuters reported.
A segment of the Taliban video of crash site. Note how casually Taliban fighters are walking around the scene at least 10 hours after the crash. Afghan military couldn’t or wouldn’t secure the crash site.
WARNING: there are bodies in the video, the Taliban does blur most of it. pic.twitter.com/2PCf4bRFzy
— Bill Roggio (@billroggio) September 15, 2018
The Taliban issued a video of its soldiers walking around the crash site, and claimed the helicopter “was shot by Mujahideen resulting in the chopper catching fire before plunging onto [sic] the ground” at 8 p.m. on Sept. 14. The video showed the wreckage of the helicopter and the bodies of five Afghan soldiers who were in it. The Taliban named three officers and two sergeants, and identified on of the officers as “Special Operations Commander Lieutenant General Toryali Farahi.”
Without footage of the helicopter being shot down and crashing, it is impossible to verify the Taliban’s claim. However, in the past, the Afghan military has denied its helicopters were shot down, only to be proven wrong.
Perhaps more disturbing than the possibility that the Taliban shot down the helicopter is that the fact that the Afghan military was either unable or unwilling to secure the crash site and recover the bodies of its soldiers at least 10 hours after the helicopter went down.
The Afghan government said the helicopter went down at 9 p.m. on Sept. 14, and the Taliban was recording video of the crash site and the bodies of the pilots and passengers in daylight on Sept. 15. In the video, Taliban fighters casually walked around the crash site and clearly looted any weapons and other gear that could be salvaged.
FDD’s Long War Journal assesses Khaki Safid as being under Taliban control, and the Afghan military’s inability to secure the crash site for at least 10 hours after its helicopter went down supports that assessment. The district center fell to the Taliban in June 2015. In the summer of 2017, the US military destroyed a Taliban “explosive depot” during an airstrike in the district.
Over the past year, the Taliban has succeeded in destabilizing Farah province. Of Farah’s 11 districts, three are controlled by the Taliban and six more are contested. The Taliban assaulted Farah City, the provincial capital, in May and briefly held large areas of the city.