- The Washington Times - Friday, April 9, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. Air Force tilt-rotor aircraft crashed in southeastern Afghanistan, killing three service members and one government contractor, NATO said Friday. Other personnel aboard were injured and were taken to a military base for treatment, NATO said.

The CV-22 Osprey went down about 7 miles from Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, NATO said. The cause of the crash was under investigation.

The Osprey takes off and lands as a helicopter, but its engines roll forward in flight, allowing it to fly faster than a standard helicopter.

A Zabul government spokesman, Mohhamed Jahn Rasuliyar, confirmed the crash and casualty figure.

A Taliban spokesman had earlier claimed militants shot down the aircraft, part of a pattern of the insurgents making such claims to promote their cause of driving foreign forces from the country.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb struck a small bus in the Kushki Kuhna district of the western province of Herat, killing three civilians and wounding five, the head of the regional border police, Malam Khan Noorzae, reported.

Such attacks are a key Taliban weapon against international forces seeking to suppress militants and stabilize the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Noorzae said a joint NATO-Afghan force had traveled along the same route on Thursday as part of anti-insurgency operations.

Choppers are used extensively by both NATO and the Afghan government forces to transport and supply troops spread across a mountainous country with few roads. Losses have been relatively light, despite insurgent fire and difficult conditions, and most crashes have been accidents caused by maintenance problems or factors such as dust.

Lacking shoulder-fired missiles and other anti-aircraft weapons, the Taliban rely mainly on machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to target helicopters at their most vulnerable during landings and takeoffs.

Associated Press writers Amir Shah, Christopher Bodeen and Slobodan Lekic contributed to this story from Kabul.

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