KABUL: A helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan killed nine NATO troops today in one of the deadliest incidents of the war, taking the overall death toll for foreign forces to an annual record.
“The cause of the crash is under investigation,” the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. “There are no reports of enemy fire in the area.”
Another NATO soldier was injured, along with an Afghan soldier and a US civilian, ISAF said, but it did not identify the nationalities of the dead troops and did not give further details on where the crash took place.
The incident brings to 529 the number of foreign troops killed this year, according to an AFP tally based on the count kept by icasualties.Org, surpassing the previous record of 521 deaths in 2009.
A total of 2,097 coalition troops have now died since the US-led invasion of 2001 which ousted the hardline Islamist Taliban regime and set off a brutal insurgency which has also killed thousands of Afghans.
The US Marines and US Army dominate the foreign forces concentrated in hotspots of the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. After only nine months, 2010 has now become the deadlist year of the long war, with the extra deployment of international forces to nearly 150,000 drawing more battlefield engagements, and leading to a spike in casualties.
June was the deadliest month of the war for coalition troops, with 103 fatalities, according to an AFP count based on the independent icasualties.Org figures.Ten foreign troops, mostly American, were killed in a wave of attacks across the country on June 22, and another 10 ISAF soldiers died in bombing attacks in the south and east on June 7.
Until recently NATO identified American casualties, while leaving coalition partners to identify their own dead separately. That changed earlier this month and US casualties are no longer revealed.
The United States and NATO have increased to almost 150,000 the number troops trying to quell the insurgency which has spread across the country with the Taliban now present in almost every one of the 34 provinces.
Their influence is strongest in the south and the eastern provinces which border Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership is said to be taking refuge, and from where attacks on Afghan targets are planned and funded.
The US President, Mr Barack Obama ordered up an extra 30,000 forces in December as part of a renewed counter-insurgency strategy focusing on the south.
The US Defence Secretary, Mr Robert Gates said last week that US strategy appeared to be working and that he was cautiously optimistic at signs of progress.