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The U.S. military is discounting claims by the Taliban that they have shot down a U.S. military helicopter in Afghanistan.

According to a news release on Sunday, Taliban officials posted the claim on an extremist Web site on Saturday. The posting claimed that a helicopter was shot down in Nuristan province on Friday.

However, no reports of a downed aircraft have been made by coalition forces and no troops are missing, U.S. officials said Sunday.

Over the weekend, reports continued to detail a near-catastrophic attack on an Australian military helicopter in southern Afghanistan last week.

On March 12, a helicopter carrying Australian troops and journalists was nearly struck by a rocket-propelled grenade fired from the ground; according to television news footage of the attack, the grenade missed the helicopter by about 20 yards.

The helicopter also was targeted by heavy machine-gun fire from a village. Helicopter crew members apparently were unaware of the attack at the time.

“There was a long series of bursts, three, four, five rounds each. He knew what he was doing. He worked us over,” John Hunter Farrell, publisher of an Australian defense magazine, was quoted as saying of the gunner on the ground. “I got out of the helicopter and said we were engaged by a heavy machine gun and they all made fun of me. They thought I was being silly.”

The helicopter was flying between Tarin Kowt and Kandahar at the time of the attack, officials said.

A U.S. Army Chinook and an Apache attack helicopter also were part of the flight, the officials said.

The last U.S. military helicopter to go down in Afghanistan crashed Feb. 18 in southern Afghanistan in Zabul province. In that incident, eight American servicemembers were killed and 14 were injured.

The crash was not believed to be caused by enemy fire.

30 Afghan police finish new training

The first group of 30 men has graduated from the new Afghan National Auxiliary Police training program in Jalalabad, American military officials said Sunday.

The ANAP program is designed to take the place of militias, and the training is run by a combination of American military personnel and civilian trainers from the defense contractor DynCorp. Eventually, officials said, the program goal is for 1,500 new policemen to be added to the current force.

“The (training) center helps provide more people willing to sacrifice and work for the future of their government and country,” U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. McGowan Anderson, an instructor, was quoted as saying. “One of the progress benchmarks of a government is how many people you have working in unison to improve the country and this program increases that number dramatically.”

The new ANAP graduates will be working in the field with American and Afghan troops, officials said.

-- Stars and Stripes

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