An aircraft crashed in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, killing fourteen British troops, the British defense ministry said.

The "aircraft was supporting a NATO mission. It went off the radar and crashed in an open area in Kandahar," said Maj. Scott Lundy, spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

Lundy said "there was no indication of an enemy attack." The crash happened about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the city of Kandahar, he said.

The British Ministry of Defense said Saturday said the dead included 12 Royal Air Force personnel, a Royal Marine and an army soldier.

The British troops are part of the NATO force battling Taliban militants to bring security to the volatile south of Afghanistan.

A witness said the aircraft went down at around 4:30 p.m. (1200 GMT) in Panjwayi district, where Afghan and NATO forces were conducting a major military operation against insurgents Saturday.

Shortly after the crash, a purported spokesman for the Taliban, Abdul Khaliq, claimed responsibility, but it was impossible to independently verify the claim.

"We used a Stinger missile to shoot down the aircraft," he said.

Haji Eisamuddin, a local tribal elder, told The Associated Press by phone that the wreckage of the plane was burning in an open field, and that coalition forces had started arriving at the scene.

"I can see three-four helicopters in the sky, and coalition forces are also arriving in the area," he said, about 20 minutes after the crash.

Kandahar was once the stronghold of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime, which was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Its militant supporters have stepped up attacks this year, sparking the deadliest violence in five years.

Britain has nearly 4,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, which neighbors Kandahar, as part of the NATO-led force.

Before Saturday, 22 British soldiers had died in the country since November 2001, 17 of them in March when the NATO force moved into Helmand, the hub of Afghanistan's world-leading heroin industry.