US troops killed in Afghan crash
A Nato helicopter has crashed during a battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan, killing 31 US soldiers and 7 Afghans, the Afghan president said today.
A brief statement from the presidential palace said a Chinook helicopter had crashed in Syedabad in central Maidan Wardak province, just to the west of the capital, Kabul, and identified the dead Americans as special forces.
The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopters. They also said eight insurgents had been killed in torrid fighting.
The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) earlier confirmed that a helicopter had crashed but gave no information about the possible cause or casualties.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai "shared his deep sorrow and sadness" with US counterpart Barack Obama and the families of the US and Afghan victims, the palace statement said.
Afghanistan's defence ministry spokesman, Zaher Azimy, also said the helicopter had crashed. He said the Afghans killed had also been from a commando unit.
"The incident is under investigation right now as this helicopter belongs to international forces," Mr Azimy said.
"Obviously they will provide details of the crash and the reason." The high casualties come only two weeks after the start of a gradual process of handing security responsibility from foreign forces to Afghan troops and police, and at a time of growing unease about the increasingly unpopular and costly war.
That process is due to end with all foreign combat troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but some US lawmakers have already questioned whether that handover is fast enough.
Incidents with heavy death tolls are sure to raise even more questions about the transition process and how much longer foreign troops should stay.
The crash was by far the worst incident of the war for foreign troops and easily surpassed the worst incidents of battlefield losses.
In April 2005, another CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed, killing 15 US servicemen and three civilian contractors.
Another Chinook crash in June the same year killed 17 US troops.
US and other Nato commanders have claimed success in reversing the momentum of a growing insurgency in the Taliban heartland in the south, although insurgents have shown a worrying ability to adapt their tactics and mount major attacks in other areas.
Those gains, however, have come at a price, with 711 foreign troops killed in Afghanistan in 2010, easily the deadliest year of the war for all concerned since the Taliban were toppled by US-backed foreign troops in late 2001.
The crash in Maidan Wardak means that at least 374 foreign troops have been killed so far in 2011, more than two-thirds of them American, according to independent monitor www.icasualties.com.