Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
The boots, gun, helmet and dog tags of a fallen U.S. soldier were displayed last week as a memorial at Combat Outpost Terra Nova on the outskirts of the Arghandab Valley's Jellawar village.
The boots, gun, helmet and dog tags of a fallen U.S. soldier were displayed last week as a memorial at Combat Outpost Terra Nova on the outskirts of the Arghandab Valley's Jellawar village. Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images
Nine American troops from the NATO-led force were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday, making 2010 the deadliest year for foreign troops in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion nine years ago.
A total of 525 U.S. and NATO personnel have died in Afghanistan this year, surpassing the 504 killed last year. American officials have predicted that 2010 would be a bloody year as 30,000 additional troops surged into Afghanistan in an attempt to challenge the Taliban insurgency in its southern heartland.
The Black Hawk helicopter came down in southern Zabul province, a Pentagon official said, killing all those onboard. Three others were injured, including an American civilian and an Afghan soldier.
The area is considered insurgent territory. The Taliban claimed it shot down the helicopter, but the official said there was no sign of hostile fire. An investigation is under way.
Most helicopter crashes in the country have been accidents caused by maintenance problems or factors such as reduced visibility because of dust or sand, which can disorient pilots.
Tuesday's crash was the worst chopper crash for coalition forces in four years in the rugged country, where helicopters are heavily used to transport military troops spread over mountainous terrain with few roads.
Nakeemullah, 20, who works transporting livestock in the area, heard the crash. "I was sitting taking my tea," said Nakeemullah, who like many Afghans uses only one name. "I heard noise and I went outside to see what happened.
"I saw a lot of smoke in the sky. It was far away for me, but I could see that it was a helicopter and it went down on the backside of the mountain where I couldn't see."
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi told The Associated Press by telephone that insurgents shot down the helicopter. The Taliban often exaggerate their claims and sometimes take credit for accidents.
Most helicopter crashes in the country have been accidents caused by maintenance problems or factors such as dust.
Before this latest event, the worst helicopter crash for coalition forces was in May 2006, when a Chinook crashed attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. soldiers. That followed a 2005 crash in Kunar that killed 16 Americans. In February 2007, a Chinook helicopter crashed in Zabul, killing eight U.S. personnel.
The most recent helicopter crash occurred in southern Kandahar province in August, when a Canadian Chinook was shot down, injuring eight Canadians.
Afghan troops have been killed in helicopter crashes as well.
In January 2009, a top Afghan army general for the western region of Afghanistan and 12 others were killed when their MI-17 helicopter went down in Shindand district of Herat province in western Afghanistan.
NPR's Tom Bowman and Quil Lawrence contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press