KABUL – A British fighter jet crashed inside NATO's largest base in southern Afghanistan on Monday in the second major crash there in two days. Fourteen Afghan civilians died in two other incidents, including three killed when German troops opened fire on their pickup truck, Afghan officials said.
The Royal Air Force GR4 Tornado crashed inside Kandahar Airfield during takeoff at 7:20 a.m., said Capt. Ruben Hoornveld, a spokesman for the NATO-led force. The crew's two members ejected and were being treated for unspecified injuries at the base hospital.
The Tornado is the fourth aircraft to go down in Afghanistan in three days and the sixth this month. Military officials say there doesn't appear to be a common reason for the spate of crashes beyond coincidence.
There was no indication that insurgent activity caused the latest crash, Hoornveld said, but officials could not immediately say why the plane went down. The jet caught fire and emergency personnel responded.
In the northern province of Kunduz, meanwhile, German forces killed three Afghan civilians Sunday when they opened fire on a pickup truck they suspected contained Taliban fighters, said provincial governor Mohammad Omar.
The German army said two civilians were killed and two seriously wounded and that the forces opened fire because the vehicle was approaching at high speed and ignored warning shots. It wasn't clear why the death tolls differed.
German and Afghan forces were conducting an operation Sunday in the Chahar Dara district when they observed two Taliban fighters entering a minivan, Omar said. When the minivan later drove toward the German forces, they opened fire, he said, but it appears the Taliban may have exited the vehicle, Omar said.
In the west, in Farah province, a van full of civilians hit a roadside bomb Sunday, killing 11 people on board, including a child and his mother, said Mohammad Younis Rasouli, the deputy governor.
A British soldier was killed by an explosion Sunday while on a foot patrol in the Sangin region of Helmand province, the British Ministry of Defense said Monday. At least 16 British troops have died in Afghanistan in July, a death toll that has sparked an outcry in Britain over a shortage of helicopters and other equipment for troops.
Monday's crash of the British Tornado at Kandahar Airfield came a day after a Russian-owned civilian Mi-8 helicopter crashed at the same base, killing 16 people on board.
Hoornveld called the two Kandahar crashes "coincidence."
Two aircraft also went down Saturday. A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet crashed in central Afghanistan, killing two crew members. U.S. officials say insurgent fire did not bring down the plane. A U.S. helicopter also made what the military calls a "hard landing" the same day. Several troops were injured.
Taliban militants downed a civilian Mi-6 transport helicopter last Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, killing six Ukrainian civilians on board and an Afghan child on the ground. Earlier in July, two Canadian soldiers and one British trooper were killed in a helicopter crash in Zabul. Officials said the crash did not appear to be caused by hostile fire.
A U.S. military spokeswoman in Kabul, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, said she has not heard anything to suggest a common thread tying the rash of crashes together. The types of aircraft involved have been different, and some crashes have been military and others civilian, she said.
"I don't think they're related," she said. "There really hasn't been a lot of similarity between the events except they all happen to be aircraft. In most cases it has not been the result of enemy activity; it has been mechanical problems or other issues."
Last year at this time there were only about 30,000 U.S. troops in the country. Today there is double that, and many more U.S. aircraft. Two of the six recent incidents involved American aircraft.