A NATO helicopter crashed overnight in east Afghanistan following an operation against Taliban insurgents, the coalition and Afghan officials said Saturday.
Afghan provincial spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the helicopter crashed in the Sayd Abad district of Wardak province. The volatile region borders the province of Kabul where the Afghan capital is located and is known for its strong Taliban presence.
NATO said the alliance was conducting a recovery operation Saturday at the site and investigating the cause of the crash, but did not release details or a casualty figure.
“We are aware of an incident involving a helicopter in eastern Afghanistan,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a NATO spokesman. “We are in the process of accessing the facts.”
NATO said insurgents were in the area at the time of the crash.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed the downed aircraft was a U.S. military helicopter and that the Taliban fighters had brought it down with a rocket attack.
In a written statement released Saturday, Mujahid said that NATO attacked a house in Sayd Abad where insurgent fighters were gathering Friday night.
Mujahid said the Taliban fired on NATO and downed the helicopter, killing all the crew. He said eight insurgents also died. The Taliban often exaggerates casualty numbers in their statements to the media.
Aircraft crashes are relatively frequent in Afghanistan, where insecurity and difficult terrain make air travel essential for coalition forces transporting troops and equipment.
There have been at least 17 coalition and Afghan aircraft crashes in Afghanistan this year.
Most of the crashes are attributed to pilot errors, weather conditions or mechanical failures. However, the coalition has confirmed that at least one CH-47F Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade on July 25. Two coalition crew members were injured in that attack.
Meanwhile, in the southern Helmand province, an Afghan government official said Saturday that NATO troops attacked a house and inadvertently killed eight members of a family, including women and children.
NATO said that Taliban fighters fired rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire at coalition troops during a patrol Friday in the Nad Ali district.
“Coalition forces responded with small arms fire and as the incident continued, an air strike was employed against the insurgent position,” said Brockhoff. He added that NATO sent a delegation to meet with local leaders and investigate the incident.
Nad Ali district police chief Shadi Khan said civilians died in the bombardment but that it was unknown how many insurgents were killed.
Helmand, a Taliban stronghold, is the deadliest province in Afghanistan for international troops.
NATO has come under harsh criticism in the past for accidentally killing civilians during operations against suspected insurgents. However, civilian death tallies by the United Nations show the insurgency is responsible for most war casualties involving non-combatants.
In south Afghanistan, NATO said two coalition service member were killed, one on Friday and another on Saturday. The international alliance did not release further details.
The deaths bring to 334 the number of coalition troops killed this year in Afghanistan, and 11 this month.