Two U.S. helicopters made emergency landings after being hit by enemy fire, and an attacker blew himself up in a failed assault on coalition forces Sunday, officials said.
Separately, three American soldiers were injured in a bomb blast.
Five U.S. soldiers and an Afghan army soldier suffered relatively minor injuries when the helicopters, both involved in the same combat operation, made hard landings on Sunday.
“Our early indications are showing that it was enemy fire that they received that ... caused the hard landings,” Lt. Col. Laurent Fox said Monday.
He praised the pilots for landing the helicopters after taking fire north of Kandahar, saying they saved the lives of those aboard. All six soldiers were treated and have returned to duty, he said.
It was unclear what kind of ammunition hit the two CH-47 Chinooks, he said. A purported Taliban spokesman claimed Sunday that the Taliban shot down one of the helicopters with a rocket, but he also claimed all aboard were killed.
Fox said that helicopter was badly damaged.
The attempted attack on the ground against the coalition forces occurred as their convoy passed through the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yousuf Stanekzai said the explosives detonated when the attacker was hit by a motorbike. The blast killed the attacker and motorbike driver and wounded two other people, U.S. military and Afghan police officials said.
One of the wounded was a coalition soldier, who was treated for minor injuries and returned to duty, said Lt. Mike Cody, a coalition spokesman. The convoy and the injured soldier were Canadian, Lt. Col. Steve Borland told The Canadian Press.
U.S. and Canadian officials called the attacker a suicide bomber, but a police officer at the scene said the man was apparently trying to throw a grenade.
In the neighboring Zabul province, three U.S. soldiers were injured when an improvised explosive device detonated near their convoy during combat operations near Deh Chopan, the U.S. military said Monday. They were in stable condition.
A self-described Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, claimed the group had shot down one of the helicopters with a rocket, but he also said that all aboard were killed. Yousaf often calls media outlets to claim responsibility for attacks with information that proves exaggerated or untrue. His ties to the Taliban leadership are unclear.
Also Sunday, Esmatullah Muhabat, a former militia leader elected to parliament in September, was shot dead in a gunfight that apparently erupted during a dispute over firewood. Stanekzai said three of Muhabat’s followers were also killed in the clash.
Some 20,000 coalition troops are fighting Taliban and al-Qaida-linked insurgents in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Increased violence has left nearly 1,500 people dead this year — the bloodiest since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.
In addition to rocket attacks, roadside bombings and ambushes in the rugged south and east that often target coalition and Afghan forces, rebels have turned to suicide bombings and other attacks in cities including the capital, Kabul.
The violence has cast a shadow over efforts to sow stability and democracy in a country wracked by war and chaos.
September’s parliamentary elections marked the final step on an internationally backed path to democracy. But the election of former warlords and others involved in past violence has raised concern that internal tensions may continue to hobble the country.