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US-Led Coalition Suffers First Casualties in Helicopter Accident

A U.S. helicopter has crashed in the desert of northern Kuwait. Military officials confirm that all people aboard have been killed, including four U.S. crewmembers and at least eight British passengers. These are the first coalition casualties since the attacks against Iraq began early Thursday morning.

U.S. officials say the giant Sea Knight helicopter went down before dawn on Friday.

A spokesman for the British forces, Flight-Lieutenant Peter Darling, said the cause of the crash is under investigation. "There were pretty unpleasant winds [Thursday], and also some during that evening, but it doesn't take that much when you're in a helicopter to start doing some damage," he said. "They're robust, but they are still vulnerable."

This type of helicopter dates back to the Vietnam War, and has a history of mechanical problems.

Two other helicopters crashed earlier in the area. There were no casualties from those crashes. Iraq says it shot down one of the helicopters, but coalition officials denied the claim.

Flight-Lieutenant Darling said the U.S. and British forces are thrusting rapidly into southern Iraq. "The U.S. Marines are in Iraq at the moment. They are advancing. They are meeting minimal resistance. And there are some reports of Iraqi soldiers giving themselves up," he said.

The British spokesman says British forces have launched an amphibious attack in southern Iraq's Faw Peninsula. He declined to provide details, but other sources say it is part of an offensive aimed at securing a southern beachhead that would allow coalition troops and equipment to land in Iraq from the sea.

Coalition forces are advancing by land on the southern Iraqi town of Umm Qasr and nearby oil facilities. They are also reportedly advancing on the nearby city of Basra, Iraq's major port on the Gulf and a major terminal for Iraqi oil exports.

Other columns of coalition forces are reported to be moving north toward Baghdad.

Iraqi forces have responded to the attacks by firing missiles into Kuwait. No casualties have been reported, but the strikes have caused repeated air raid alerts in Kuwait City, and broadcast warnings to residents to stay in doors.