KABUL, Afghanistan >> A U.S. military helicopter crashed during a firefight with insurgents in a remote area of southern Afghanistan on Thursday, killing seven Americans and four Afghans in one of the deadliest air disasters of a war now into its second decade. The Taliban claimed they gunned down the Black Hawk.
NATO forces said they could not confirm what caused Thursday’s crash and stressed that it was still being investigated. The Black Hawk was operating in support of an ongoing assault on the ground but initial indications were that it was not shot down, according to U.S. officials who spoke anonymously because the investigation was continuing.
There’s no word yet if Schofield soldiers are among those killed.
About 2,600 Hawaii soldiers with the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, which includes Black Hawk helicopters, are in southern Afghanistan on a year-long deployment. In April, four Schofield soldiers, among them Waipahu native Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Don C. Viray, 25, were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan.
The Kandahar provincial government backed the Taliban claim. It said the helicopter was shot down in Shah Wali Kot district, a rural area north of Kandahar city where insurgents move freely and regularly launch attacks. Provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal did not provide details or say how the province had confirmed the information.
The crash killed all of those aboard — seven U.S. troops, three members of the Afghan security forces and an Afghan civilian interpreter, said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the coalition.
The downed helicopter was a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, a medium-lift helicopter that has served as the U.S. Army’s workhorse since the 1980s.
The U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan has relied heavily on utility helicopters such as the Black Hawk to ferry troops, dignitaries and supplies around the mountainous terrain, thus avoiding the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said insurgent fighters shot down the helicopter in Kandahar province on Thursday morning.
“Nobody survived this,” Ahmadi told The Associated Press by phone.
Today’s crash is the deadliest since a Turkish helicopter crashed into a house near the Afghan capital, Kabul, on March 16, killing 12 Turkish soldiers on board and four Afghan civilians on the ground, officials said.
In August last year, insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing 30 American troops, mostly elite Navy SEALs, in Afghanistan’s central Wardak province.
At least 26 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month and at least 219 so far this year.
Associated Press writers Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Amir Shah and Deb Riechmann in Kabul contributed to this report.