Icy Afghan Weather Takes Toll on Military
November 3, 2001 1:39 pm EST

By Charles Aldinger
Icy Afghan Weather Takes Toll on Military
A plume of smoke rises near Deshitiqala in northern Afghanistan after a bombing raid on Taliban positions by U.S. fighter jets November 3, 2001. Diving from clear blue sky, U.S. war planes blasted Taliban front line positions north of Kabul.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With icy weather taking a toll on the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Saturday it had no plans to recover an unmanned spy plane that crashed in the rugged country shortly after the crash of a special forces helicopter there.

Defense officials denied claims by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban that its forces shot down both aircraft, saying the first onslaught of the harsh Afghan winter apparently downed the helicopter and the $3.2 million remote-controlled Predator drone late on Friday.

The Taliban on Saturday said they had shot down a U.S. helicopter during the night in an operation to the south of the capital, Kabul. An Information Ministry official said the helicopter was shot down while trying to rescue the crew of another aircraft that had crashed in the area.

"All together between 40 to 50 Americans have died in both these incidents," the official told Reuters. "You can see the bodies of the Americans on board the helicopters with their uniforms."

As the Pentagon denied that claim, a private Washington think tank specializing in military expenses estimated the month-long military operation in Afghanistan had already cost the United States up to $800 million. The report predicted the bill could soon escalate to $1 billion a month.


With up to 100 U.S. special forces troops already in northern Afghanistan spotting targets for American warplanes on the 28th day of an intense bombing campaign, the Pentagon said this week bad weather and heavy Taliban groundfire had foiled recent attempts to sharply increase that presence.

The U.S. helicopter on a special forces mission crashed late on Friday, injuring four crew members. But all were rescued by another American helicopter and evacuated from the country, the Defense Department said.

"The injuries were not life-threatening and they are being treated," Air Force Maj. Michael Halbig, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters. He would not say where the helicopter crashed or where the injured crew members were being treated.

Less than an hour after the helicopter went down, an RQ-1B Predator was reported missing by the Air Force, which said preliminary reports suggested icy weather also caused that crash.

"There is no plan to recover the aircraft and no sensitive technology will be compromised by not recovering the aircraft," the military's Central Command said in a release from its headquarters in Tampa, Florida.But the Pentagon, worried about sensitive equipment aboard the helicopter falling into Taliban hands, directed U.S. F-14 attack jets from the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt to the site and they bombed the wreckage of the helicopter.

The loss of the Predator was the first for the U.S. military in a campaign sparked by Sept. 11 attacks on America, although a CIA-operated Predator also crashed in Afghanistan in September.

The expensive Predators are not high-altitude aircraft and thus are more susceptible to ground fire and icy rain.


The private Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based think tank, on Saturday estimated the first 25 days of the Afghan military operation through the end of October had cost the Pentagon $400 million to $800 million.

Conceding that such "preliminary rough estimates" were very difficult because of a lack of specific information being provided by the military, the institute said the Defense Department was likely to incur costs of $500 million to $1 billion a month for the duration of the operation.

Excluding the costs of such weapons as satellite-guided bombs and $1 million Tomahawk cruise missiles, the report said, the air operation alone had already cost more than $150 million due to long distances being flown by strike aircraft.

The Pentagon announced on Friday two new spy planes, including the unmanned "Global Hawk," would soon fly over Afghanistan.

Navy Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem, a senior official on the U.S. military Joint Staff, said the Air Force's four-engine "JSTARS" surveillance and attack targeting aircraft had been ordered to the region along with the Predator. The crew of that military version of a Boeing 707 can spot enemy vehicles and troops from very long range in foul weather.

Global Hawk, with a wingspan of 116 feet, can remain airborne for 24 hours at altitudes of 60,000 feet while providing real-time video pictures of movements on the ground.