Seven dead in NATO helicopter crash in Afghanistan
KABUL (Reuters) - Seven NATO soldiers died when their Chinook helicopter crashed on Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, the site of some of the heaviest recent fighting between Western forces and the Taliban.
Troops responding to the scene of the crash were ambushed and called for an air strike to eliminate the threat, NATO officials said.
NATO would not say immediately if the big, twin-rotor military helicopter was directly involved in a battle with Taliban guerrillas or whether it was shot down. The cause of the crash was under investigation.
"Clearly there were enemy fighters in the area," said Major John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. "It's not impossible for small arms fire to bring down a helicopter."
The helicopter went down in the southern province of Helmand, Afghanistan's main opium poppy-growing region, where Western forces have clashed repeatedly with Taliban militants in recent months following a winter lull in fighting.
"The entire crew of five died in the incident. There were also two military passengers who died," ISAF said in a statement. "One Afghan civilian was injured by small arms fire after the crash."
ISAF does not release the nationalities of soldiers killed or wounded in Afghanistan.
Chinook crashes in Afghanistan have killed at least 55 U.S. soldiers in the last two years.
The helicopter crashed in the Kajaki region of Helmand, where Afghan government and foreign officials are hoping to eliminate guerrillas in order to carry out a key hydro-electric project; the reconstruction of the Kajaki dam.
When completed, the project is expected to vastly increase electric power in the province and spur development.
Taliban leaders have threatened in recent weeks to step up attacks on NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops and said they have trained hundreds of suicide bombers to carry out attacks.
Last year's fighting between Western forces and the militants was the bloodiest since the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
The guerrillas are largely active in southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan, where more than 5,000 people have been killed in the past 16 months.
The violence is rising despite the presence of nearly 50,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the U.S. military as well as about 100,000 Afghan security forces.
At least five other Chinook helicopters have gone down in Afghanistan in the last two years.
In February, eight U.S. troops were killed when a Chinook crashed in Zabul province. Mechanical failure was blamed.
In May 2006, a Chinook crash killed 10 U.S. servicemen in Kunar province.
Three Chinook crashes in 2005 were blamed for the deaths of 37 U.S. troops. One of those helicopters was shot down.
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