A search and recovery operation was under way yesterday to find the bodies of two missing US servicemen after the worst American military helicopter crash in Afghanistan left at least 16 people dead.
Thirteen of the confirmed fatalities on the Chinook were members of the US military while three others were civilians employed by US government contractors, US military spokesman Lieutenant Cindy Moore.
She would not confirm the nationalities of the three civilians, but a Western security source said on condition of anonymity that all the victims were Americans.
Two US service members who were listed on the flight manifest were missing, presumed dead, Moore added. There were no survivors at the crash site in Ghazni province, around 100km south of the capital Kabul.
The US blamed bad weather and said the crash had been an accident. "There was no indication of hostile fire," Moore said.
However, the ultra-Islamic Taliban militia, which continues to wage an insurgency in the war-torn country, later said it had shot down the helicopter.
There was no way to independently verify the claim.
"This is the worst record for a crash in Operation Enduring Freedom," said US military spokesman Lieutenant Cindy Moore, referring to the operation launched in late 2001 to topple the Taliban regime.
Recovery operations were ongoing yesterday and a mortuary team would arrive on-site later yesterday to "care for the remains of the dead" and confirm what had happened, Moore said.
Chinooks are a mainstay of the US-led coalition force in rugged Afghanistan, where they are used for transport duties.
They have also been employed for relief work during recent spring floods.
Moore said the helicopter was one of two Chinooks returning from a patrol in southern Afghanistan. The second helicopter returned safely to Bagram, the main US air base which is just north of Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Latif Hakimi said militants had shot down the crashed helicopter with an 82mm gun.
Taliban insurgents regularly claim responsibility for incidents involving coalition casualties.
Around 18,000 US-led coalition troops are hunting down remnants of the Taliban regime and their Al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan. They are also helping with anti-drug operations.
US forces flying missions above Afghanistan's difficult, mountainous terrain have now suffered eight helicopter crashes since the end of 2001, Moore said.
The seven previous crashes before Wednesday's accident claimed 21 lives, she added.
The last victim was the pilot of a Black Hawk helicopter which came down near the western city of Herat in October.
Six people -- three US military personnel and three American civilians -- were killed last November when their rented civilian transport plane crashed in central Afghanistan's Bamiyan province.
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