Asia Crisis

Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, no injured-U.S.

(Adds militants killed in the south)

KABUL, June 26 (Reuters) - A helicopter belonging to U.S.-led coalition forces crashed in Afghanistan, but there were no injuries to the soldiers on board and the cause of the crash is under investigation, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

But a Taliban spokesman said insurgents had shot down the aircraft and killed everyone on board. The incident happened in the northeastern province of Kunar, which borders Pakistan, on Wednesday.

"No coalition forces soldiers were seriously injured and all have been returned safely from the incident," the U.S. military said in a statement. "The aircraft has been secured."

A resident of the Wata Pur district said he saw flames and black smoke coming out of a helicopter as it was landing.

The 64,000 international troops in Afghanistan are heavily reliant on aircraft to transport troops and supplies around the rugged mountainous country.

The Taliban often take pot shots at helicopters, but so far the militants are not believed to have obtained surface-to-air missiles which could alter the balance of the war dramatically.

Many historians believe it was the Afghan mujahideen's acquisitions of such missiles that tipped the war against the Soviet occupation in their favour in the 1980s.

Violence in the east of the country is up 40 percent this year compared with the same period last year, the U.S. general commanding NATO forces in the region said this week.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces killed several Taliban insurgents in an air and ground assualt after coming under attack in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Wednesday, a U.S. military statement said.

In the neighbouring province of Zabul, Afghan forces backed by U.S.-led coalition killed several militants during a routine patrol, the U.S. military said.

Despite suffering heavy casualties at the hands of Afghan and foreign troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency shows few signs of abating. More than 6,000 people were killed in insurgency-related violence last year alone. (Additional reporting by Rohullah Anwari; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Ben Tan)