Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Helicopter crash kills five in southern Afghanistan

AFP, KABUL

Five members of the NATO-led international force fighting in Afghanistan were killed in a helicopter crash in bad weather in the country’s south, the coalition and provincial authorities said yesterday.

Police in the southern province of Kandahar said the helicopter had come down on Monday evening during a heavy rain storm in Daman District.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) does not release the nationality of casualties, but US, British and Australian soldiers operate in the south of Afghanistan, battling an Islamist insurgency.

“The cause of the crash is under investigation. However, initial reporting indicates there was no enemy activity in the area at the time,” ISAF said following the incident.

Helicopter crashes are fairly frequent in Afghanistan, where the 100,000-strong international mission relies heavily on air transport.

“There was bad weather in the area and the helicopter crashed at about 10pm,” Kandahar provincial police chief General Abdul Razeq told reporters. “No insurgents were there at the time.”

In August last year, seven US soldiers and four Afghans died when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Kandahar. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for bringing down the aircraft.

Monday’s crash came on the same day that two US soldiers were killed and 10 wounded in a suspected insider attack in the eastern province of Wardak by a man in an Afghan army uniform who also killed several Afghan soldiers.

The NATO mission in Afghanistan has been unsettled this week by comments from Afghan President Hamid Karzai accusing the US of colluding with the Taliban to justify the presence of foreign troops in the country.

Washington abruptly dismissed the allegations, saying the US has “spent enormous blood and treasure” in supporting the Afghan people and did not support any kind of violence involving civilians.

Karzai’s comments came during the first visit to Kabul by new US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, who vowed that the US was working to ensure a successful handover as Afghan security forces take on the battle against the Taliban.

Combat troops from the NATO mission are to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year, and many fear that poorly trained Afghan soldiers will struggle to contain insurgents opposed to Karzai government.

Hagel’s visit to Afghanistan was also marred by twin suicide attacks, including one in central Kabul while he was at a US base nearby in the city.

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