KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A helicopter crashed killing at least six foreigners on Tuesday in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, scene of a massive operation by U.S. Marines, a NATO official said.
The Taliban, leading the insurgency against foreign troops and the Afghan government, said it had shot down a Chinook helicopter.
The six dead included civilian contractors, a spokesman for the NATO-led force in Kabul said. He did not give any more details.
An Afghan official who witnessed the crash told Reuters the helicopter was being used by foreign forces. Spokesmen for the British and U.S. forces said it was a civilian aircraft.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy, Lieutenant-Commander Christine Sidenstricker, said there had been some casualties in the crash in the Sangin district of Helmand.
“We know that there were casualties, but we are still receiving information from the scene and at this time do not have any additional details about them,” she told Reuters.
Around 4,000 U.S. Marines and hundreds of NATO and Afghan forces are taking part in an offensive in various parts of Helmand against the Taliban, the biggest by foreign troops since they ousted the Islamist group in 2001.
The operation comes ahead of next month’s presidential election, which is crucial both for Kabul and for a U.S. administration that has identified Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan as its top foreign policy priority.
Since the launch of the operation in Helmand, the Taliban have stepped up their attacks in other parts of Afghanistan against foreign troops and the Afghan government, making July the bloodiest month for foreign troops for nearly a year.
On Monday, two U.S. soldiers from the NATO-led force were killed in Helmand, a spokesman for the U.S. military said.
Prior to that, at least 15 foreign servicemen had been killed since the start of the assault in Helmand, part of the main bastion for Taliban guerrillas and the main drug producing region of Afghanistan, the world’s top heroin supplier.
And there have been numerous casualties among U.S. forces in other parts of Afghanistan. Last week, three foreign servicemen were killed when a NATO helicopter crashed in southern Zabul province.
Several dozen Taliban have also been killed in Helmand alone, according to the Afghan government, but there has been no major engagement with the militants there.
Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin
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