Seven NATO soldiers killed in chopper crash in Afghanistan

By Xinhua

Kabul : A NATO military helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing seven NATO soldiers on board, the military said early Thursday, while the Taliban claimed responsibility for shooting it down.

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A Chinook helicopter of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) went down in Kajaki district of Helmand province at about 900 p.m. (1630 GMT) Wednesday, ISAF said in a statement.

"The entire crew of five died in the incident; there were also two military passengers who died," it said, adding one Afghan civilian was injured by small arms fire after the crash.

The statement, however, did not clearly mention how many personnel were on board. The two-engine Chinook has the capacity of carrying about 30 people.

"The cause of the crash is being determined by military officials," it said.

A unit, responding to the scene of the crash, was ambushed by enemy fighters later, the statement said, adding an air strike was called to eliminate the enemy threat.

In accordance with NATO policy, ISAF does not release the casualties' nationality prior to the relevant national authority doing so.

However, some media reports quoted an anonymous US military official as saying that Taliban militants shot down the chopper by a rocket propelled grenade, and five US soldiers were killed in the crash.

Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi told Xinhua by satellite phone from an undisclosed place that it was Taliban fighters who brought down the Chinook.

"All soldiers and personnel on the helicopter apparently were killed," Ahmadi said.

Eight American soldiers were killed on February 18 when Chinook helicopter of the US-led coalition forces crashed in Zabul province of southern Afghanistan.

An ISAF aircraft, carrying out a reconnaissance task over a battlefield, crashed in Kandahar province of southern Afghanistan on Sep 2, 2006, killing all 14 British soldiers on board.

About 37,000 ISAF and 13,000 coalition soldiers are being deployed in Afghanistan to hunt down militants and keep security. Over 50 ISAF and coalition soldiers have lost their lives in this insurgent country this year.