11 US Military KIA, 3 US DEA KIA in Afghan Helo Collision

MILITARY: 4 Camp Pendleton Marines die in Afghanistan helicopter collision

By MARK WALKER - mlwalker@nctimes.com | Posted: Monday, October 26, 2009 6:10 pm |

Four Camp Pendleton Marines were killed in Afghanistan on Monday when two helicopters collided over Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, authorities said.

Seven other Americans and three members of the Drug Enforcement Agency combating that country's opium trade died in a separate crash Monday in western Afghanistan, military officials said.

The combined 14 deaths made Monday the deadliest single day for U.S. personnel in Afghanistan since 2005.

The Camp Pendleton fatalities included a pilot identified by military officials as Capt. Kyle Van De Giesen of North Attleboro, Mass.

Identification of the three other Marine aviators was pending.

Van De Giesen was assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 39 from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing assigned to Camp Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force.

The 29-year-old Van De Giesen was a married father of one; his wife is expecting the couple's second child. He had long wanted to become a military aviator, his family said in a statement.

"He fulfilled his lifelong dream of becoming a Marine helicopter pilot, protecting his family and serving his country," they said.

Van De Giesen's UH-1 helicopter collided with an AH-1 Cobra helicopter in the early morning darkness over central Helmand, said Maj. Bill Pelletier, a Marine Corps spokesman. Further details of how the two collided were not immediately available.

The UH-1, or Huey, is a general utility helicopter that has been a workhorse for the armed services and Marine Corps since the Vietnam War.

The AH-1 Cobra is the Marine Corps' primary attack helicopter.

In the second crash Monday, authorities said seven Americans and the DEA agents were returning from a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers when the copter went down.

Authorities could not say whether that aircraft was brought down by enemy fire, but a Taliban spokesman claimed the anti-government force shot down a helicopter over the Badghis province in western Afghanistan.

Eleven other Americans, including another DEA agent, and 14 Afghan security troops were injured in that crash, according to a statement from NATO.

Monday's helicopter deaths were the highest for a 24-hour period since June 2005 when 19 U.S. troops died, 16 of whom perished when a U.S. Army Special Forces MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down.

About 11,000 Marines are in Afghanistan, the highest number since shortly after the U.S. invasion in fall 2001.

Roughly 1,300 Marines and sailors from Camp Pendleton, including more than 1,200 from the base's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, are operating in Helmand, one of the most dangerous regions in Afghanistan.

Later this year, roughly 200 members of Camp Pendleton's 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion are scheduled to head to the central Asian nation to command a task force in charge of special operations in northern and western Afghanistan.

That unit's nine-month deployment represents the first time the Marine Corps has been given the job of managing special operations forces, which include Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets and Air Force teams.

About the same time as those forces arrive, a squadron of the Marine Corps' newest helicopter, the V-22 Osprey, is expected to see its first action in Afghanistan. The aircraft takes off and lands like a helicopter, using tilt rotors, and flies like an airplane.

The Osprey was plagued by cost overruns and accidents that killed 27 Marines in crashes during its development, including 14 from Camp Pendleton and four from Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

The aircraft saw its first overseas action in Iraq last year. Critics have questioned whether the Osprey can handle the harsh environment and higher elevations of Afghanistan.

The squadron getting the assignment is based in North Carolina. At least three squadrons of Ospreys are expected to be based at Miramar and Camp Pendleton next year.

The four latest Camp Pendleton deaths come less than a week after a base Marine died from injuries suffered in a roadside bombing in Helmand.

Lance Cpl. David R. Baker died Oct. 20 as a result of injuries suffered while on foot patrol. A 22-year-old mortarman from Painesville, Ohio, Baker was a member of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment's Weapons Company.

Two other American service members died in fighting Sunday. Forty-seven U.S. service members have been killed in Afghanistan in October.
Jeeze a sombre day indeed. God rest them!

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