WASHINGTON - All nine troops killed in the worst helicopter crash for the coalition in Afghanistan in four years were Americans, the Pentagon has confirmed without providing further information on why the aircraft carrying Navy special forces went down.
NATO said there were no reports of enemy fire in a rugged area in the Daychopan district of Zabul province, where the crash took place on Tuesday. But 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.
The U.S. Defense Department released the identities of the troops late Wednesday, saying four were with the Navy special forces — three of them Navy SEALS — and the rest were soldiers.
Fort Campbell spokesman Rick Rzepka said that the five soldiers were assigned to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.
Tuesday's crash was the deadliest since May 2006, when a Chinook helicopter went down while attempting a nighttime landing on a small mountaintop in eastern Kunar province, killing 10 U.S. troops.
Aircraft are used extensively in Afghanistan by both NATO and the Afghan government forces to transport and supply troops because the terrain is mountainous and roads are few and primitive.
Lacking shoulder-fired missiles and other anti-aircraft weapons, the Taliban rely mostly on machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to fire at aircraft during takeoffs and landings.
Most helicopter crashes in the country have been accidents caused by maintenance problems or factors such as dust.
On Wednesday, NATO confirmed the capture of a Taliban commander operating in Marjah, the site of a major coalition offensive in February. The commander, who helped supply local militants, was captured during an Afghan and coalition operation in Helmand province Tuesday.
After questioning residents at the scene, troops detained the commander and two of his associates. Troops found 45 pounds (20 kilograms) of wet opium — that is, the gum collected from the plant before it is dried — which is often sold to fund the insurgency.
Also Wednesday, NATO also said insurgents attacked a NATO and Afghan army outpost in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border and 25 to 30 of the militants were killed in the resulting skirmish.
Troops at the combat outpost in the Spera district of Khost province returned fire with mortars late Tuesday, NATO said in a statement. Initial reports found there were no civilian casualties, it said.
Gen. Raz Mohmmad Horya Khil, a senior commander of the Afghan National Army in the province, said 29 insurgents were killed. There were no casualties among NATO or Afghan troops, he said.
Horya Khil said the attack came from the Pakistan side of the border.
Meanwhile, a NATO service member was killed Wednesday by a homemade bomb in southern Afghanistan.
NATO provided no further details, but the Danish military announced in Copenhagen that the bomb blast killed a Danish soldier and seriously wounded another. The two members of the Royal Life Guards were on foot patrol in Helmand province when the bomb went off, it said.
Denmark has more than 700 troops serving in the NATO-led force. Most are based in Helmand province.
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