- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | A NATO helicopter crashed Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, killing nine international troops in a region where forces are ramping up pressure on Taliban insurgents. It was the deadliest chopper crash for the coalition in four years.

A “large number” of Americans were among those who died in the crash, according to a senior military official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because not all relatives have been notified. He said it remained unclear whether troops of other nationalities were among the fatalities.

The cause was not immediately clear. The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter, but NATO said there were no reports of hostile fire.

It happened in Zabul province — rugged terrain where helicopters are heavily used to transport military troops spread over mountainous areas with few roads.

One other coalition service member, an Afghan National Army soldier, and a U.S. civilian were injured.

So far this year, 525 U.S. and NATO forces have been killed in Afghanistan, surpassing the 504 killed last year. This year has been the deadliest for international forces since the war began in 2001.

The helicopter crash occurred in northwestern Zabul province in the early morning hours, according to a NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the location of the crash.

Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Zabul, said the helicopter went down in Daychopan district.

The NATO contingent in Zabul is dominated by U.S. and Romanian forces.

NATO said there were no reports of enemy fire in the area.

However, Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, told the Associated Press by telephone that insurgents shot down the helicopter. Taliban members often exaggerate their claims and sometimes take credit for accidents.

Mr. Rasoolyar said NATO told local officials that the helicopter crashed due to mechanical problems.

“The Taliban were not involved in this crash at all,” he said.

Also Tuesday, NATO said Afghan and NATO forces had conducted an operation Sunday and Monday to disrupt the Taliban’s freedom of movement outside its heartland of Kandahar city, also in the south, killing at least 11 insurgents and destroying several improvised explosive devices.

In addition, five Afghan road construction workers were killed and four wounded Tuesday when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Shinwari district of Parwan province, said Shinwari police official Abdul Shakoor. Parwan is in northeastern Afghanistan.

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