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More Troops in Afghanistan, More Troop Deaths in Afghanistan

Fourteen Americans Dead as Helicopters Crash in Afghan Raids

by Jerome Starkey in Kabul and Jenny Booth

Fourteen Americans have died in Afghanistan in a bloody night for the US, when one helicopter came down under heavy fire and two more collided in mid air.

A UH-47 Chinook helicopter is one of the types used by American troops in Afghanistan (David Furst/AFP/Getty Images) Seven soldiers and three civilians were killed in the first incident, moments after their helicopter took off after extracting soldiers from a daring raid against one of the region's most wanted drugs smugglers.

A military spokesman confirmed that the US civilians were with "other government agencies".

Elite US troops had launched a pre-dawn, airborne assault against a compound in western Afghanistan, believed to harbour insurgents linked to the multi-billion dollar opium trade.

During the operation, insurgent forces engaged the joint force and more than a dozen enemy fighters were killed in the ensuing fire fight," a military spokesman said.

"As the joint force was departing the area, one helicopter went down due to unconfirmed reasons. Military casualties are reported and a recovery operation is under way."

A further 26 people, mainly Afghan and US troops, were injured in the crash. Rescue operations have been launched, and details of the units and the types of helicopters involved have been withheld until they are complete.

Senior Afghan generals said that special forces were involved in the raid, in Darpum district of Badghis province in western Afghanistan.

A spokesman for the Taleban claimed responsibility. Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said: "There was fighting in the bazaar between foreign troops and the Taleban. During the fighting the Taleban shot down a foreign helicopter."

But Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement that the reasons for the crash were still being investigated, and added: "The cause is not believed to be from enemy action."

"Seven US service members and three US civilians were killed," the ISAF statement said.

"Those injured include 14 Afghan service members, 11 US service members and one US civilian."

Meanwhile four US troops died and two were injured in a mid-air heliopter collision in the south of the country.

Col Wayne Shanks, a US military spokesman, said that the military had ruled out hostile fire. He said the injured had been evacuated to hospitals inside Afghanistan.

2009 has been the deadliest year for international forces since the 2001 invasion. The death toll was highest around the presidential vote in August, when 51 US soldiers died.

With more than 30 American troops killed so far in October, this morning's deaths bring the toll to in excess of 44.

Both southern and western Afghanistan have seen a surge of US troops.

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