A NATO helicopter crashed in Afghanistan’s east yesterday, but there were no apparent casualties, officials said, another stark reminder of the dangers of the war after 38 people were killed in an air incident, the largest single loss for foreign forces in 10 years.
A worrying surge of military deaths is being matched by record casualties among civilians, who continue to bear the brunt of a war that appears to have become bogged down despite claims of success from both sides.
Yesterday, 300 angry Afghans took to the streets in central Ghazni Province carrying the bodies of two people they claimed had been killed during a raid by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign troops hunting insurgents have long been a major source of friction between Kabul and its Western backers. UN figures show such casualties hit record levels in the first six months of this year, although it blamed 80 percent of them on insurgents.
NATO officials are still investigating the cause of a helicopter crash two days ago that killed 38 people, including 30 US soldiers — some from the US Navy SEALs team that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — seven Afghans and an interpreter.
The Taliban claim to have shot down that troop-carrying CH-47 Chinook helicopter in central Maidan Wardak Province and a US official in Washington, who asked not to be identified, said that helicopter was believed to have been shot down.
“We’re still not aware of the cause of the incident, this is a very vital part of the investigation,” Brigadier General Carsten Jacobsen, senior spokesman of the NATO-led ISAF, told a news conference. “The area in which the helicopter was operating was known to be not free of insurgents.”
Yesterday, another ISAF helicopter had made a “hard landing” in Paktia Province, a volatile area in Afghanistan’s southeast, another official said.
“There were no casualties,” said Lieutenant Colonel David Doherty, another ISAF spokesman.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed in a text message sent to reportersthat the Islamist group had shot down the helicopter, another Chinook, in the Zurmat District of Paktia, killing 33 US soldiers.
The Taliban often exaggerate claims in attacks against foreign troops and Afghan security forces and government targets, although they correctly identified the number killed in the weekend’s -Chinook crash in Wardak.
At least another seven ISAF troops were killed in fighting in a ghastly 48 hours for the coalition. Four were killed in two separate attacks on Sunday, including two French legionnaires.
Meanwhile, in Ghazni, deputy police chief Mohammad Hussain said about 300 people had -gathered to carry two bodies to the provincial governor’s office after an overnight raid by ISAF in Khogyani District.
“People claim the corpses are from civilians killed during a night raid by ISAF forces, but still they are not identified,” Hussain said.
ISAF spokesman Captain Pietro D’Angelo said two insurgents had been killed after a patrol came under attack.
“There are no reports of civilians harmed during this operation,” D’Angelo said.
On Sunday, Karzai also ordered an investigation into a NATO air strike that allegedly killed eight civilians in Helmand Province on Friday.