Afghan riot policeman cool 248.88.
(photo credit: )
A US military helicopter crashed while returning from the scene of a firefight with suspected Taliban drug traffickers in western Afghanistan, killing 10 Americans including three DEA agents in a little noticed but expanding war within a war.
Four more troops were killed Monday when two helicopters collided over southern Afghanistan, making it the deadliest day for US forces in this country in more than four years.
US military officials insisted neither crash was believed a result of hostile fire, although the Taliban claimed they shot down a US helicopter in the western province of Badghis. The US did not say where in western Afghanistan its helicopter went down, and no other aircraft were reported missing.
The second crash took place when two US Marine helicopters - a UH-1 and an AH-1 Cobra - collided in flight before sunrise over the southern province of Helmand, killing four American troops and wounding two more, Marine spokesman Maj. Bill Pelletier said.
The casualties marked the Drug Enforcement Administration's first deaths since it began operations here in 2005. Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium - the raw ingredient in heroin - and the illicit drug trade is a major source of funding for insurgent groups.
The US has decided to target production and distribution networks after programs to destroy poppy fields did little except turn farmers against the American-led NATO mission.
In the past year, the DEA has launched an ambitious plan to increase its personnel in Afghanistan from about a dozen to nearly 80, greatly expanding its role.
NATO said the helicopter containing the DEA agents was returning from a joint operation that targeted a compound used by insurgents involved in "narcotics trafficking in western Afghanistan."
"During the operation, insurgent forces engaged the joint force and more than a dozen enemy fighters were killed in the ensuing firefight," a NATO statement said.
Eleven Americans, including another DEA agent, and 14 Afghan security troops were wounded in the crash, NATO said.
Military spokeswoman Elizabeth Mathias said hostile fire was unlikely because the troops were not receiving fire when the helicopter took off. She said troops had been rushed to the crash site to determine the cause.
The crash came less than a week after a UN report found that the drug trade is enabling the Taliban to make more money now than when they ruled Afghanistan before the US invasion in 2001. The DEA sent more agents to Afghanistan this year to take part in military operations against insurgents who use drug smuggling to raise funds for their war against NATO and its Afghan allies.
It was the heaviest single-day loss of life since June 28, 2005, when 19 US troops died, 16 of them aboard a Special Forces MH-47 Chinook helicopter that was shot down by insurgents.
US forces also reported the deaths of two other American service members Sunday: one in a bomb attack in the east, and another who died of wounds sustained in an insurgent attack in the same region. The deaths bring to at least 47 the number of US service members who have been killed in October.
This has been the deadliest year for international and US forces since the 2001 invasion to oust the Taliban. Fighting spiked around the presidential vote in August, when 51 US soldiers died that month - the deadliest for American forces in the eight-year war.
President Barack Obama mourned 14 Americans killed Monday and told a military audience he will not be hurried as he evaluates whether to alter US strategy in the war.
"I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way. I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary," Obama said during a visit to Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida.
Obama is debating whether to send tens of thousands more troops to the country to curb the burgeoning Taliban-led insurgency. Doubts about bolstering the US force grew after widespread fraud marred the Aug. 20 presidential election, raising doubt whether the US and its NATO allies had a reliable partner in the fight against the militants.
Afghan officials scheduled a runoff election Nov. 7 between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah after UN-backed auditors threw out nearly a third of the incumbent's votes, dropping him below the 50 percent threshold required for a first-round win in the 36-candidate field.
Abdullah complained Monday that there were no assurances that the November vote would be fairer than the first balloting. He called for the head of the government's Karzai-appointed election commission chairman, Azizullah Lodin, to be replaced within five days, saying he has "no credibility."
Lodin has denied allegations of bias in favor of Karzai, and the election commission's spokesman has already said Lodin cannot be replaced by either side.
Another flawed election would cast doubt on the wisdom of sending in more US troops.