KABUL, Afghanistan – A U.S. Chinook (search) helicopter crashed Sunday in remote mountains of southern Afghanistan, killing all five crew members on board, the U.S. military said. It did not appear to have been shot down.
The CH-47 chopper was supporting military operations when it went down near Daychopan (search) district in southern Zabul (search) province, a military statement said. U.S. ground forces had reached the crash scene and were providing security for recovery operations.
"There is no indication at this time that this is a result of hostile fire," U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara told The Associated Press. "There are no survivors."
He said all five crew members had been killed.
The deaths bring to 195 the number of U.S. military service members killed in and around Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, including 79 this year during an upsurge in violence that has left some 1,300 people dead since March.
The crash is the third this year involving the large troop-carrying helicopters used in remote, inaccessible parts of Afghanistan. With a combined 36 deaths, the crashes have contributed heavily to what already is the deadliest year of the U.S.-led operation that began in 2001.
Gulab Shah, a spokesman for Zabul's governor, said there had been no fighting in the area at the time of the crash. He said he had been told by U.S. forces in the region that the chopper crashed while returning to a U.S. base after dropping off troops for a raid on a suspected militant target.
"The weather was fine," Shah said. "Afghan troops are trying to reach the crash site, but there are no roads anywhere nearby."
Daychopan is about 180 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, and has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting with Taliban rebels.
Purported Taliban (search) spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi called The Associated Press and claimed rebels had shot down the helicopter, though he offered no evidence to back up his claim.
"Our men were standing on top of a mountain when the helicopter passed and we shot it," he said.
Information from Hakimi in the past has sometimes proven exaggerated or untrue and his exact tie to the Taliban leadership cannot be verified independently.
There have been a string of helicopter crashes in Afghanistan this year, including two U.S. military Chinooks.
In late June, suspected insurgents shot down a U.S. Chinook in volatile eastern Kunar province near the border with Pakistan. All 16 U.S. forces on board were killed. In April, 15 U.S. service members and three American civilians were killed when their Chinook went down in a sandstorm.
The twin-rotor Chinook — an all-purpose cargo and troop-carrying helicopter — was one of the workhorses of the Vietnam War, where it was first used. It has been in service in all wars since. It is able to carry a platoon of troops, lift large loads of fuel or ammunition, or retrieve smaller helicopters.
It has a crew of five, including two pilots, and three others who man M60 machine guns to protect it.
The crash comes just days after President Hamid Karzai (search) questioned whether U.S. air strikes are effective and challenged the need for major foreign military operations in his country.
In a separate incident, two suspected Taliban rebels were killed and one was injured when their vehicle hit a mine in southern Helmand province Sunday, said Mohammed Wali, a spokesman for the local government.
It was not immediately clear whether the mine had been recently laid or was left over from the past quarter-century of war.