BAGRAM, Afghanistan – A U.S. military plane carrying special forces troops crashed and caught fire after taking off from an airstrip in Afghanistan, killing three Americans. Seven others escaped with minor injuries.
The crash on Wednesday — the deadliest in the Afghan campaign since seven Marines were killed in January — did not appear to have been caused by hostile fire, U.S. spokesman Roger King said at Bagram air base on Thursday.
A quick reaction force secured the crash site in a hilly region 35 miles southwest of the town of Gardez as officials gathered the remains of the dead servicemen, King said.
Two of the dead were Air Force personnel; the third was an Army special forces soldier. The seven others on board — five airmen and two Army troops — suffered minor injuries ranging from a broken leg to cuts and bruises. They were taken to a U.S. base at Kandahar for treatment.
Security was tighter than usual in Kandahar, where a large number of helicopters buzzed about. A military source said four of the injured were treated and released there, then returned to duty.
The Air Force MC-130H crashed and caught fire about three miles from the airstrip where it took off near the Bande Sardeh Dam at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, King said.
The MC-130H, nicknamed the Combat Talon, is a version of the propeller-driven C-130 cargo plane outfitted for special forces missions such as refueling helicopters and taking commandos into hostile territory. The $155 million, four-engine plane is designed to take off and land on short, unpaved runways and can carry up to 77 troops.
An Air Force team was flying in from the United States to investigate the crash, King said.
The aircraft was taking off from a field airstrip used to resupply special forces operating in the area and was bringing the three Army soldiers back to Kandahar base, King said.
The area around the crash had seen ``sporadic'' Al Qaeda and Taliban activity in the past, but no fighters had been encountered there recently, King said.
Around 1,000 U.S. special forces troops and 400 British marines have been searching for months in the provinces near the Pakistan border for traces of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Most of the fighters are thought to have fled into Pakistan or are operating in small groups in the border region.
A special forces patrol in southeast Afghanistan shot and wounded an Afghan who fired on them Wednesday, King said. The wounded man was taken into detention and was being treated. It was not immediately known if he belonged to Al Qaeda or the Taliban or was a member of the many other armed groups in the region.
Thirty-eight members of the U.S. armed forces have been killed while supporting the Afghan campaign — 15 in combat or other hostile situations and 23 by other causes, including airplane and helicopter crashes.
On Jan. 9, seven Marines were killed when their KC-130 crashed into a mountain in Pakistan. The KC-130 is the refueling tanker version of the C-130.