Noor Khan  /  AP
Two Afghan soldiers guard an American-owned helicopter that was fired upon Sunday near Kandahar, Afghanistan.
updated 2/23/2004 8:40:23 AM ET 2004-02-23T13:40:23

A lone attacker opened fire on a helicopter as it sat on the ground in southern Afghanistan Sunday, killing the Australian pilot and wounding an American woman, officials said.

Four foreigners and an Afghan interpreter had come on the helicopter to inspect a school construction project in Thaloqan, and the group was about to leave when the gunman attacked, said Khalid Pashtoon, spokesman for governor of Kandahar province.

The Australian male pilot was killed and an American woman who was helping set up health clinics in the region was seriously wounded, a U.S. Embassy spokesman told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The attacker escaped, and Afghan forces were searching house-to-house in Thaloqan, about 40 miles southwest of the southern city of Kandahar.

The accounts contradicted earlier reports that said the helicopter was in the air when it was hit.

Wounded evacuated to Kandahar
A U.S. military quick reaction force evacuated the wounded to Kandahar, military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said. Witnesses said bullet holes dotted the helicopter, which was white with red stripes. It was hoisted away by a U.S. military helicopter.

Officials said the helicopter belonged to The Louis Berger Group Inc., an engineering firm based in East Orange, N.J. which oversees infrastructure projects in southern Afghanistan. Rebels of the former ruling Taliban regime are active in the region.

Mike Staples, public relations official for Louis Berger in Kabul, refused to comment.

A man claiming to speak for the Taliban, Abdul Samad, telephoned the AP in Kabul about six hours after the attack and said the hard-line Islamic militia was responsible.

That claim could not be independently confirmed, and Samad’s description of the shooting — which he said involved eight guerrillas — was at odds with witness accounts.

Pashtoon said no one had warned local authorities that the foreigners were visiting Sunday.

“They had not informed us. They had not asked us about security. They had no coordination with us,” Pashtoon said.

Insurgents have launched repeated attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan in recent months in an apparent bid to undermine the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai and stymie reconstruction efforts in the war-battered country.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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