By Aimal Yaqubi and Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times –
KABUL, Afghanistan — A NATO helicopter crashed Thursday in southern Afghanistan in an apparent accident that killed six members of the international military force, the U.S.-led coalition said.
The cause of the crash was under investigation, but the coalition said there were no reports of enemy activity in the area at the time. In line with policy, it would not disclose the identities of those killed or their nationalities until the governments and families involved had been notified.
Helicopter-related fatalities and near-misses are not unusual in Afghanistan, although most involve one or two fatalities.
In August, however, in the deadliest single incident in the decade-long war, a military helicopter was shot down in eastern Afghanistan, killing 38 U.S. and Afghan troops, including 17 with the elite Navy SEALs unit that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Seven Afghan commandos also died in that incident.
Thursday’s crash occurred on the same day a suicide attacker detonated an explosives-laden vehicle outside a crowded gate at Kandahar air field, killing seven civilians. Television video showed a scene of carnage, with vehicle parts strewn across the road. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said it was targeting a NATO convoy.
According to two witnesses cited by The Associated Press, the suicide bomber detonated his explosives just as two pickup trucks, which the witnesses said are often used by American special forces, were leaving the base.
A Taliban spokesman also said NATO forces opened fire after the bombing, killing three of the seven civilians who died.
The coalition said that no NATO troops were killed in the incident, although it didn’t say whether any personnel suffered injuries, and that there was no firefight after the blast. “There was no follow-on attacks and no disruption to operations” at the base, a statement said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the suicide bombing, calling it “heartless and cowardly” to target women and children. He repeated his call for the Taliban to stop killing innocent people.
As the 2014 deadline approaches for the coalition to turn over security responsibility to Afghan forces, the U.S. has been trying to broker talks between the Taliban and Karzai’s government in hope of ending the war.
The insurgent group said recently that it planned to open a political office in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar in order to pursue negotiations. But it also said it would continue fighting, hoping, analysts said, to maximize its leverage knowing that Western political and military commitment is waning.