US helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, 10 soldiers killed

A United States helicopter involved in an anti-Taliban combat operation crashed in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, killing all 10 US soldiers on board, the US military said on Saturday.

The crash of the Chinook in Kunar province late on Friday was another blow to coalition forces in Afghanistan after a bomb killed two Italian soldiers near the capital the same day.

“The remains of 10 soldiers were on board the aircraft that crashed last night. There were no survivors,” said a spokesperson for the US-led military coalition, Lieutenant Tamara Lawrence.

Lawrence said all the soldiers killed in the crash in eastern Kunar province were American. Details of the dead would be released by the Pentagon, she said.
Some 15 other US soldiers have already died in Afghanistan this year, 13 of them in hostile action. Four died on March 12 when a roadside bomb ripped through their convoy in Kunar.

Friday’s toll was the biggest in one incident since Taliban militants shot down another US Chinook helicopter in Kunar in June last year, killing all 16 soldiers on board, eight of them US Navy SEALs.

Two months before that a US military helicopter crashed in bad weather in the southeast of the country, killing all 18 Americans on board, including 15 service members in the worst helicopter crash during operations in Afghanistan.

The US-led coalition said the chopper that crashed on Friday was not brought down by enemy action, rejecting a claim by Taliban insurgents that they had shot it down.

“The crash occurred in a very mountainous terrain and the landing zone was very difficult. It was a mountain-top landing zone,” Lawrence said.

“There were various weather factors that could have come into play ... there were high winds. We are investigating any possible causes for the accident but there were no enemy actions detected at the scene.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement he was saddened by the deaths.

“The people of Afghanistan will never forget the sacrifices made by the US soldiers for the sake of peace and prosperity of the people of Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.

The aircraft was taking part in a massive anti-Taliban drive, Operation Mountain Lion, launched in insurgency-hit Kunar last month. It crashed near the provincial capital Asadabad close to the border with Pakistan.

Mountain Lion is one of the biggest operations in months against insurgents loyal to the Taliban regime. It involves 2 500 Afghan and coalition troops backed by a range of US and British war planes.

While the 20 000-soldier US-led coalition is battling Taliban and other insurgents in eastern and southern Afghanistan, a separate Nato-led force of peacekeepers is deployed in the west and north, and the capital Kabul.

Two Italian soldiers with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed Friday and four wounded when their armoured vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb 16km south of Kabul.

The ISAF and coalition forces have been in Afghanistan since the ouster of the hardline Taliban government after they failed to surrender al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Despite the coalition’s efforts, there are still near-daily attacks linked to the Taliban-led insurgency and the leaders of the movement and allied Islamist groups remain on the run. - AFP

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