Six U.S. Air Force personnel in Afghanistan were killed late Sunday when their helicopter crashed while on a humanitarian mission. The accident is the worst air crash suffered by the U.S. military since coalition forces entered Afghanistan more than a year ago.
The U.S. Air Force Blackhawk helicopter was on a routine rescue mission to help two Afghan children, when it crashed about 30 kilometers north of the southern city of Ghazni. The city is about 80 kilometers south of Kabul.
The cause of the crash has not been determined, but military officials suspect a technical problem caused the worst American air accident since coalition forces began operating in Afghanistan in 2001. Colonel Roger King, the spokesman for coalition forces in Afghanistan, says there is no evidence the crash was caused by hostile fire.
"This is not believed to be the result of any enemy action. The aircraft had six U.S. personnel on board and there were no survivors," Colonel King said.
The helicopter's mission was not connected to operation Valiant Strike, a coalition offensive against the remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida, under way in the Samighar mountains in Kandahar province.
Coalition forces say they have recovered a large cache of weapons in the operation.
Among the weapons recovered are mortars, rocket launchers and heavy machine guns. Colonel King said two months of intelligence gathering was behind the operation. "It indicates that our intelligence that led us there is probably correct. I know that the troops are gratified every time they find one of these weapons caches because they know it is a group of weapons that cannot be used against them, so that is a good thing," he said.
Elsewhere, U.S. Special Forces troops battled about 20 fighters on the main road linking the towns of Gardez and Khost in southern Afghanistan. U.S. military authorities say they suffered no casualties and were not certain if they inflicted any casualties on the opposition.
However, Afghan sources say the opposition fighters were supporters of an Afghan warlord, Bacha Khan Zadran, who has opposed the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. They said Mr. Zadran's son and at least nine of his militiamen were killed in Monday's fighting.