Afghan military helicopter crash kills 17 soldiers

Afghan security forces inspect the damage caused after a suicide bomber blew up a truck in eastern Logar province killing eight people.  Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Afghan security forces inspect the damage caused after a suicide bomber blew up a truck in eastern Logar province killing eight people. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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An AFGHAN military helicopter crashed in a remote region of the southern Zabul province yesterday, killing 17 soldiers, including five crew members.

Provincial police chief Mirwais Noorzai said the cause of the crash was not yet known and was under investigation.

The Defence Ministry said the crash was believed to be caused by a technical problem, but provided no further details.

Afzal Aman, the defence ministry’s chief of operations, described it as “the worst calamity to hit the air force.”

He confirmed the casualty figure, and said the dead included a unit commander and 11 soldiers, as well as the crew.

Mohammad Qasim Khan, the Shinkay district chief, confirmed the death toll, with an army commander saying an official delegation had been dispatched to the area to investigate the ­incident.

Aircraft crashes have been a regular risk for Afghan and foreign coalition forces, with troops relying heavily on air transport to traverse the country’s rugged terrain to fight the Taleban.

The Afghan military has been fighting the Taleban-led insurgency alone since US and Nato forces concluded their combat mission at the end of last year, shifting to a support and training role instead.

Mr Aman said the helicopter was a Russian-made M-17, and was flying between Zabul’s capital Qalat and Shinkay, 12 miles away. The Taleban issued a statement on their website taking responsibility.

Meanwhile, in eastern Logar province, a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden truck detonated his payload outside provincial government offices, killing eight people and wounding another 12.

Din Mohammad Darwish, spokesman for the governor of Logar province, near Kabul, said the dead from yesterday’s attack included three police officers and five civilians. Five police were among the wounded.

The massive blast, in provincial capital Puli Alam, blew out windows in buildings 500 metres away, he said.

The Taleban insurgency is currently in turmoil, following confirmation of the death of its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar. Afghan authorities said he died in a Pakistani hospital more than two years ago.

Afghan interior ministry said the bombing yesterday was the first suicide attack since the Taleban confirmed the death of Omar, who led the militant movement for about 20 years.

The Taleban claimed responsibility for the attack, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid saying a “Mazda truck packed with heavy explosives – killed more than 100 security personnel”.

Taleban insurgents routinely exaggerate the death toll in attacks on Afghan government and military targets.

However, in a rare admission, Mujahid said “some civilians may have been wounded as a result of broken glass”.

The Taleban do not usually claim responsibility for attacks which result in a large number of civilian casualties.

The bombing coincides with a faltering peace process, with the Taleban confronted by an increasingly bitter power transition after Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was announced as the new leader last Friday.

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