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Helicopter crashes in Afghanistan

A NATO crew member is killed; the Taliban says it downed the craft.

April 24, 2011|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A NATO helicopter crew member was killed Saturday when the aircraft crash-landed in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said.

The cause of the "hard landing" in Kapisa province was under investigation late Saturday, said Maj. 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.

Rescue forces who arrived at the crash scene were fired on by insurgents as they tried to evacuate the helicopter's two crew members, and they returned fire, according to a NATO statement.

One of the crew members died at the scene and had not been identified by NATO forces late Saturday.

Taliban officials claimed responsibility for the crash, saying insurgents had shot down the helicopter and killed the crew, who they said was French.

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

NATO spokesmen said they could not comment on why the helicopter crashed.

NATO and Afghan security forces rely on helicopters and other aircraft to transport troops and supplies across mountainous provinces with few paved roads.

In September 2010, nine U.S. troops were killed when their helicopter crashed in a remote area of Zabol province in southern Afghanistan. In May 2006, a Chinook helicopter crashed while attempting a night landing on a mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. troops.

Fighting has recently increased in eastern Afghanistan as coalition forces have intensified attacks on insurgents along the border with Pakistan, and militants have fought back with suicide bombings and assassinations.

On Saturday, insurgents killed two Afghan police officers, ambushing their supply convoy in the eastern province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan, spokesmen for the Interior Ministry and Nangarhar's governor said. Two other police officers were wounded in the attack.

Insurgents also attacked and killed a NATO service member Saturday in eastern Afghanistan.

In the country's east, a NATO soldier was killed Thursday by a roadside bomb, and another died Friday in an insurgent attack. NATO forces do not initially disclose the nationality of troops killed.

This year, 135 NATO troops have died in Afghanistan, including 98 Americans, according to the independent website icasualties.org. This month, there have been 23 U.S. deaths, three more than in April 2010, according to the website.

U.S. casualties increase during summer months as the fighting season heats up.

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.

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