US Helicopter crash kills 5 crew members in Afghanistan

All five crew were killed yesterday when a US Chinook helicopter crashed in the mountains in Zabul south province of Afghanistan, which is the centre of a renewed Taleban insurgency.

The aircraft went down in the Day Chopan district as it returned to base after dropping off troops for an anti-insurgency operation. US commanders said that there was no evidence that it had been shot down, although the Taleban claimed responsibility.

The deaths brought the number of US military personnel killed in Afghanistan since the Taleban regime was ousted in late 2001 to 195. That number now includes 79 casualties this year, after an upsurge in violence that has claimed more than 1,200 lives, including those of Afghan civilians. The Chinook was one of several aircraft involved in the operation and other pilots said that there was no sign that it had come under fire. US ground forces were quickly on the crash scene.

“We are taking a hard look at this investigation to see exactly what did cause the crash. It could be mechanical failure,” said Colonel James Yonts, a US military spokesman, reports Times Online.

American ground forces reached the crash site and were providing security for recovery operations, Yonts said.

The aircraft was returning to a U.S. base after dropping off troops for an anti-militant operation near Daychopan in southern Zabul province, the colonel said.

Daychopan, 300 kilometers [180 miles] southwest of the capital, Kabul, has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent months. Several Taliban hideouts are believed to be in mountains there.

A spokesman for Zabul's governor, Gulab Shah, said no fighting took place in the area Sunday and that the weather was fine.

The deaths bring to 195 the number of U.S. military service members killed in and around Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, including 79 this year during a major upsurge in violence that has left some 1,300 people dead since March.

Despite the violence, millions of people voted a week ago in legislative elections, the final formal step toward democracy after a quarter-century of war.

Mullah Latif Hakimi, the purported Taliban spokesman, called The Associated Press to claim responsibility for downing the chopper, but offered no evidence.

"Our men were standing on top of a mountain when the helicopter passed and we shot it," he said.

Photo: the AP

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