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Published reports that a US Army helicopter unit illegally flew combat missions into Nicaragua and other hostile areas of Central America are ''totally false,'' a Pentagon spokesman said Sunday.

The Detroit Free Press's Sunday editions said at least 17 members of the unit were killed in 1983, a number of them after telling relatives that the Army would lie to conceal the circumstances of their deaths.

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It said the 160th Task Force of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., sent missions into hostile territory in Central America during 1982 and '83 in support of pro-US forces.

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