14 American soldiers die in 2 helicopter crashes
KABUL— Fourteen Americans died Monday in helicopter crashes in southern and western Afghanistan, one of the deadliest days for the United States in the Afghanistan war.
Ten died when a helicopter went down in western Afghanistan, and four were killed in a mid-air collision between two helicopters in southern Afghanistan, according to NATO officials in Kabul. The death toll could climb higher, as some of the 14 U.S. survivors in the two crashes were critically injured, the International Security Assistance Force said.
Both appeared to be accidents.
“In both incidents, there is no evidence of hostile fire,” said Capt. Mike Andrews, a NATO spokesman in Kabul.
A total of 911 American troops have died in the Afghan war, now entering its ninth year; 281 of those deaths came this year, according to icasualties.org, a Web site that tracks casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Helicopters are lifelines for American troops in Afghanistan, ferrying supplies and people to locations that often are too dangerous or too remote to reach by road and providing aerial firepower against insurgent forces.
NATO officials wouldn’t immediately say exactly where the crashes occurred or what types of helicopters were involved. They said they wanted to wait until recovery operations were complete and the next of kin were notified.
In the southern Afghanistan collision, NATO officials said, four service members died and two were injured.
The western Afghanistan crash involved a helicopter that was carrying U.S. and Afghan forces and American civilians to a compound that was being searched for drugs. Insurgents attacked during the operation, and the resulting firefight killed 12 of the enemy forces, according to NATO officials.
As the troops were departing the area, the helicopter crashed, killing seven U.S. service members and three civilian government employees.
“Today the U.S. Embassy mourns the loss of three civilian members of our … community and seven members of the U.S. military,” said a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.
Fourteen Afghans, 11 American service members and one American civilian were injured in that crash.
NATO officials also reported the deaths of two American service members Sunday in eastern Afghanistan. One was killed in a bomb attack, and another died of wounds suffered in an insurgent attack.
The deaths occurred as the U.S. and other NATO nations are preparing to provide security for the Nov. 7 runoff election, a mammoth joint undertaking with Afghan security forces to secure polling places from insurgent attacks.
President Barack Obama, who’s considering sending tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, is monitoring election preparations closely.
Widespread fraud marred the first round Aug. 20. An audit found hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes for President Hamid Karzai, and a smaller number for his runoff challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah.
Abdullah fears the second round also could be marred by fraud and has expressed his distrust of the Independent Election Commission, which was established under Afghan electoral law to oversee the voting. Monday, Abdullah demanded Azizullah Lodin, the Karzai appointee who chairs that commission, step down.
Reuters reported Abdullah gave the commission until Saturday to meet his demand, and until then he’d “suspend all of our relations with the commission.”
“Why should I resign?” the agency quoted Lodin as saying.