KANDAHAR: At least 17 people, including 12 Afghan army soldiers, were killed Thursday in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan, the worst such incident suffered by military forces since the NATO combat mission ended in December.
The Afghan defence ministry said the military helicopter went down due to a technical fault in Shinkay, a district relatively free of insurgent activity in the otherwise volatile province of Zabul.
"The Mi17 transport helicopter crashed, killing 17 people including 12 Afghan army soldiers and five crew members. It was not an insurgent attack, it crashed due to technical difficulties," a senior army commander in southern Afghanistan told.
The Taliban claimed they shot down the chopper with a rocket launcher, but the insurgents are known to exaggerate or falsify battlefield claims.
Shinkay district chief Mohammad Qasim Khan also attributed the crash to a technical fault, with another military commander saying an official delegation has 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 Afghanistan´s rugged terrain to fight the Taliban.
The insurgents have on occasion brought down NATO helicopters, notably a US Chinook in 2011 which killed 30 Americans, but such incidents have been rare.
In April last year five British troops died when their helicopter crashed in Kandahar province in what London´s Ministry of Defence said at the time appeared to be a "tragic accident". — Agencies