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Top Afghan general dies in helicopter crash

Twelve soldiers are also killed. Afghan officials blame the weather, but Taliban insurgents say they brought down the chopper.

January 16, 2009|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A helicopter carrying one of Afghanistan's most senior army generals and 12 soldiers crashed in bad weather Thursday, killing all aboard, the Afghan military said.

Taliban insurgents claimed to have downed the Russian-made chopper in western Afghanistan, but the military said in a statement that poor visibility caused the craft to slam into a jagged mountainside.

Much of Afghanistan is enveloped in rain and snow, which has been hampering military transport as well as civilian flights. The nation's military relies largely on a poorly maintained fleet of aging Russian aircraft.

It was one of the largest losses of life in a single incident that the Afghan army has suffered in recent years. The general who died, Fazl Ahmad Sayar, was one of four regional commanders. He was in charge of army operations in the west of the country.

The Mi-17 helicopter went down in the rugged Adraskan district of Herat province, the Afghan Defense Ministry said in a statement.

All the bodies were recovered, it said.

The Afghan military said there were no insurgents operating in the area, but Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said militants had shot down the helicopter.

Also Thursday, British authorities announced the deaths of two servicemen a day earlier in southern Afghanistan. The two, a soldier and a Royal Marine, were killed in an explosion in Helmand province, one of the main centers of the insurgency.

Many of the approximately 30,000 U.S. troops arriving in Afghanistan in coming months will be deployed in the south, once the Taliban movement's home base.

With violence at its highest level since the war began seven years ago, the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said it is willing to talk with Taliban fighters who agree to lay down their arms. Saudi Arabia has attempted in recent months to broker indirect talks between the government and Taliban-connected elements.

In an apparent continuation of that effort, the head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Mugrin bin Abdul-Aziz, met with Karzai and other senior officials Thursday, the government said.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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Special correspondent M. Karim Faiez contributed to this report.

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