A fatal helicopter crash has claimed the lives of eight Afghan soldiers in a northern province. Military authorities are blaming a technical fault, while the Taliban claims it shot down the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said Sunday that five crew members and three soldiers were killed in the crash in Dand Ghori district while the helicopter was supplying a military base. He blamed a mechanical fault with the aircraft and said he rejected any claims by insurgents to have downed the helicopter.
"An Afghan army helicopter crashed in northern Baghlan province due to some technical problem," he said. "An investigation is under way."
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement claiming responsibility for downing the helicopter, saying the aircraft was shot down by fighters. The Taliban often exaggerate claims about attacks though its fighters have in the past downed government aircraft.
Two unnamed provincial officials in Baghlan also told The Associated Press that the helicopter had been shot down by insurgents while it was supplying the Qarghan Tapa military base that had been surrounded by Taliban fighters for a week with more than a hundred government troops cut off.
They said all roads to the base have been shut off by the insurgents and the only way to supply them is by air with food, water and ammunition.
Battle for Kunduz continues
Mahmood Haqmal, spokesman for Baghlan's governor, said that Taliban militiamen have stepped up their attacks in Dand Ghori and Baghlan-e Murkazi districts and some civilians have been displaced by the fighting.
Taliban insurgents have recently increased their attacks on Afghan forces in Baghlan and Kunduz provinces. The Taliban are still managing to hold out in the northern city of Kunduz as fighting there continues for the seventh day since the insurgents launched an all-out offensive.
jar/rc (AP, Reuters)