Nine NATO soldiers die in helicopter crash
A NATO helicopter crashed yesterday in southern Afghanistan, killing nine international troops.
The area where the helicopter came down was in a region where forces are tightening the squeeze on Taliban insurgents.
A "large number" of Americans were among those who died, according to a senior military official in Washington. It remained unclear whether troops of other nationalities were among the fatalities.
The cause was not immediately clear. The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter, but NATO said there were no reports of hostile fire.
It happened in Zabul province -- rugged terrain where helicopters are heavily used to transport military troops spread over mountainous areas with few roads.
One other coalition service member, an Afghan National Army soldier and a US civilian were injured.
So far this year, 526 US and NATO forces have been killed in Afghanistan, surpassing the 504 killed last year.
This year has been the deadliest for international forces since the war began in 2001.
The helicopter crash occurred in northwestern Zabul province in the early hours of the morning, according to a NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to disclose the location of the crash.
Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Zabul, said the helicopter went down in Daychopan district.
It was the worst chopper crash since May 2006 when a Chinook crashed while attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 US soldiers.
Although NATO said there were no reports of enemy fire in the area Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed that insurgents shot down the helicopter.
Rasoolyar said NATO told local officials that the helicopter crashed due to mechanical problems.
"The Taliban were not involved in this crash at all," he said.
Most helicopter crashes in the country have been accidents caused by maintenance problems or factors such as dust.
The worst helicopter crash for coalition forces was in August 2005 when two transport choppers crashed in a western Afghan desert, killing 17 Spanish troops.
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