10 U.S. Soldiers Are Killed in Afghan Helicopter Crash

By CARLOTTA GALL

New York Times

May 6, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 6 Ten American soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed Friday in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, the United States military said Saturday.

The crash took place close to a landing zone and was not caused by hostile fire, a military spokeswoman, Lt. Tamara Lawrence, said. The bodies were being recovered Saturday, she said, and an investigation into the cause was under way.

The soldiers were among 2,500 coalition and Afghan forces taking part in an offensive operation in a remote part of Kunar Province, about 150 miles east of the capital, Kabul. Insurgents are thought to be based in the region, and the military has been flying soldiers into high mountain ridges there to cut off escape routes.

Forces of the Taliban and Al Qaeda have joined mujahedeen groups in the area who are loyal to a renegade commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The insurgents have been attacking coalition and government forces, mostly with remote-controlled mine explosions on the mountain roads. Four United States soldiers were killed there on March 12.

The area, in the Korengal Valley, has been one of the most dangerous for the United States-led coalition and Afghan forces. It is across the border from a Pakistani region where Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are thought to be hiding.

Friday's crash brings to 25 the number of American soldiers killed this year in Afghanistan, where a coalition force of about 20,000 is active. In 2005, 84 American service members were killed, the highest number in any year since military operations began in Afghanistan in 2001.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for Friday's crash when he was contacted by telephone, saying Taliban fighters had shot down the helicopter, a Chinook transport. "Whenever we shoot them down, they announce it as a technical problem," he said of the coalition forces. "This is their propaganda." But Lieutenant Lawrence said Saturday that so far there was no indication of hostile fire. People on the ground at a landing zone near where the helicopter crashed as well as people aboard other aircraft in the air at the time of the crash did not see any signs of fire, she said.

Insurgents used shoulder-held rocket-propelled grenade launchers to shoot down two American military helicopters last year. One helicopter was carrying 16 people, including eight Navy Seal commandos, and went down in Kunar Province in July. The second, with five American service members on board, was shot down in September in Zabul Province, in southeast Afghanistan.

In the Zabul crash, the United States at first said hostile fire was not involved, but investigators later confirmed that the helicopter had been shot down.

At a news briefing in Kabul on Saturday, Henry A. Crumpton, the American coordinator for counter terrorism, said he believed that Mr. bin Laden was hiding on the Pakistani side of the border. "We are very confident that he is along the Afghan-Pakistan border somewhere," Mr. Crumpton said while on a visit to Pakistan and Afghanistan. He said there was "a higher probability that he is on the Pakistan side, but no guarantee of that." He added that Pakistan was still not doing enough to deny Taliban forces safe sanctuary in the Pakistani border areas.