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SHKIN, Afghanistan — Two American servicemembers were killed and eight others wounded Wednesday when insurgents fired mortars at a helicopter that had just landed on a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan.

“The people who were injured or killed were waiting to load the helicopter,” said Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, a spokesman for Combined/Joint Task Force-76. O’Hara and much of the task force’s headquarters staff are part of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) from Vicenza, Italy.

He said the identities or units of those wounded and killed would not be released until their families were notified. The injured were being treated at military facilities in Afghanistan, he said.

“Our hearts and our prayers go out to the family, and our thoughts are with those who were wounded in this attack. This incident will only strengthen our resolve and commitment to this mission,” U.S. Army Brig. Gen. James G. Champion, Combined Joint Task Force-76’s deputy commanding general for operations, said in a statement.

O’Hara said the CH-47 Chinook helicopter suffered “extensive” damage from the attack, but was not directly hit by the four mortar blasts. The helicopter’s crewmembers were not among the injured.

Early indications were that the 107 mm mortars were fired closely together and were likely targeting the helicopter, though not in a sophisticated manner, he said.

The injuries to the soldiers and damage to the helicopter were caused by shrapnel.

According to Jane’s Armour and Artillery, a military reference guide, 107 mm mortar rounds have a lethal radius of more than 41 feet from impact, though shrapnel has been noted to travel much farther.

The attack occurred about 9 a.m. local time at the forward operating base, located about 110 miles southeast of Kabul, the country’s capital. The helicopter was conducting a routine resupply mission. Helicopters are the only means of rapidly getting supplies and personnel to many forward operating bases in the mountainous country.

O’Hara said Air Force assets — A-10 Thunderbolt IIs are based at Bagram Air Base — were called in, but couldn’t locate those who had fired the mortars. An extensive search of the area around the base turned up empty as well.

The attack marked the first time since SETAF took over the mission in Afghanistan on March 15 that servicemembers have been killed by long-range attacks directed on a military compound. Several U.S. compounds routinely come under rocket or mortar attack, but most cause little or no damage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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