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NATO chopper crash-lands in Afghanistan; 2 rescued

The Taliban claims responsibility, but the cause of the "hard landing" in Kapisa province is unclear.

April 23, 2011|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Two NATO helicopter crew members had to be rescued Saturday after their helicopter crash landed in eastern Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said.

The cause of the "hard landing" in the Alah Say district of Kapisa province was still under investigation late Saturday, according to Major Michael Johnson, a NATO forces spokesman. Johnson said he could not disclose what type of helicopter crashed or whether it was part of a larger operation in the area.

Sabour Wafa, a spokesman for the governor of Kapisa province, said the crash occurred in a nonresidential area and no civilians were injured.

Taliban officials have claimed responsibility for the crash, saying they shot the helicopter down and killed the crew, who they claimed were French.

"The forces had come to the area to attack on mujahedin strongholds, but they faced furious attacks," said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

NATO and the Afghan security forces rely on helicopters and other aircraft to transport and supply troops across Afghanistan's mountainous provinces, where paved roads are scarce. In September 2010, nine U.S. troops were killed when their helicopter crashed in a remote area of Zabul province in southern Afghanistan. That was the deadliest helicopter crash for NATO forces since May 2006, when a Chinook helicopter crashed while attempting a night landing on a mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. troops.

Fighting has increased in eastern Afghanistan in recent days as coalition forces ramped up attacks on insurgents along the Pakistan border and militants fought back with suicide bombs and assassinations.

On Saturday, insurgents killed two Afghan police, ambushing their supply convoy in the Shiwa district of eastern Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan, according to spokesmen for the interior ministry and Nangarhar's governor. Two other police were wounded in the attack, they said.

On Friday, a NATO soldier was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan, and the day before, another NATO soldier was killed in the same region by a roadside bomb. NATO forces do not initially disclose the nationality of soldiers killed.

So far this year, 135 NATO forces have been killed in Afghanistan, including 98 U.S. troops, according to icasualties.org. This month, there have been 23 U.S. casualties, three more than April 2010, according to the website. In years past, U.S. casualties have increased during the summer months as the Taliban fighting season heated up.

NATO forces have been staging clearing operations across the country this week to hunt down Taliban and other insurgent leaders, with some success.

On Friday, NATO and Afghan forces in the Charkh district of Logar province captured a Taliban leader they claimed was responsible for the Feb. 8 bazaar bombing there that killed a U.S. soldier and wounded three others, according to a NATO statement. They did not identify the leader.

On Wednesday, coalition forces had captured a militant who led operations in Afghanistan for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an Al Qaeda-linked terror group. NATO officials described the militant, whom they did not identify, as a key link between the group's Pakistan leadership and Afghan Taliban leaders.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Special correspondent Aimal Yaqoubi in Kabul contributed to this report.

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