A NATO helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing six members of the international military force, the US-led coalition said yesterday.
The cause is still being investigated, but a coalition statement said there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of Thursday’s crash, which brought the number of international forces killed in Afghanistan this month to 24.
The coalition did not disclose the nationalities of those killed and would not release details of the crash until the families of the dead were notified.
The helicopter crash occurred on the same day that a suicide car bomber killed at least seven civilians outside a crowded gate at Kandahar Air Field, a sprawling base for US and NATO operations in the south. Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility, saying they were targeting a NATO convoy.
It was the second suicide bombing in as many days in southern Afghanistan, officials said. The coalition said no NATO troops were killed on Thursday. It does not disclose information about wounded troops.
The Taliban has been stepping up attacks in southern Afghanistan, the birthplace of the insurgency, with a wave of bombings and the assassinations of three local Afghan officials this week. The violence comes even as the US is moving ahead with plans for negotiating with the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef said that NATO forces opened fire after the bombing and killed three of the seven civilians who died. The coalition denied this, saying there was no fighting after the blast.
On Wednesday, 13 civilians, including three Afghan policemen, were killed when a suicide attacker blew himself up in a bazaar in neighboring Helmand Province.
Twenty-two others were wounded in the blast in Kajaki District, the Helmand governor’s office said.
The coalition said international troops were killed and wounded in the attack, but did not disclose details.
Late on Wednesday, NATO reported that one coalition troop had been killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan, but would not say whether the service member died in the Kajaki bombing, or a different incident.
US General John Allen, the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, condemned the Kajaki attack, saying it was evidence that the Taliban insurgents had “declared outright war” on the Afghan people. He said that such violence “will only further isolate the Taliban from the process of peace negotiation.”
The US has been working to broker talks between the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government to end the 10-year war. The insurgents recently said they would open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar to pursue negotiations, but would also continue fighting.
Several current and former US officials said the most substantive give-and-take to date between US and Taliban negotiators could happen in the next week, with the goal of establishing what the US calls confidence-building measures — specific steps that both sides agree to take ahead of formal talks.
However, US intelligence agencies recently offered a gloomy prognosis in their latest Afghanistan report.
The Afghan National Intelligence Estimate warns that the Taliban will grow stronger, using the talks to gain credibility and run out the clock until US troops leave Afghanistan, while continuing to fight for more territory, say US officials who have read the classified document. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the roughly 100-page review, an amalgam of the intelligence community’s predictions of possible scenarios for the Afghan war through the planned end of US combat in 2014.