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Rescuers retrieve bodies of 10 U.S. troops killed while hunting militants

Monday, May 8, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Rescuers recovered the bodies of 10 soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash while scouring remote Afghan mountains along the Pakistan border for al-Qaida and Taliban militants, the U.S. military said Sunday.

The military said Friday's crash into an inaccessible ravine -- the deadliest for U.S. forces here in a year -- was not caused by hostile fire.

The soldiers were based at Fort Drum in New York, but their names and units will not be released for several days, Fort Drum spokesman Benjamin Abel said Sunday. Of the roughly 18,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, about half are from the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum.

An investigation team was at the scene of the crash, said Lt. Tamara D. Lawrence, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan.

"The area was inaccessible to trucks and vehicles, so helicopters were used to retrieve the bodies," said Lawrence.

The helicopter crashed in the Chawkay district of Kunar, about 40 miles southwest of a large U.S. military base in the provincial capital of Asadabad. Asadabad is in a large valley surrounded by rugged mountains.

Some 2,500 Afghan and U.S. soldiers are conducting a joint military campaign in Kunar province near the border with Pakistan. It is one of the biggest offensives since the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces in late 2001 for hosting al-Qaida.

Attacks have been on the rise in Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces, where militants have been using suicide and roadside bombs more than ever.

The 10 deaths brought to at least 25 the number of U.S. military personnel killed in Afghanistan this year, according to the Web site icasualties.org, which relies on Defense Department information.

At least 234 U.S. military personnel, including those killed Friday, have died in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the conflict, according to the Defense Department.

Last June, all 16 troops aboard a Chinook died in Kunar when it was hit by a militant's rocket-propelled grenade -- the deadliest attack against American forces in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's new foreign minister said he thought neighboring Pakistan could do more to fight terrorism -- an echo of comments a day earlier by the top U.S. counterterror official.

Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, speaking after meeting with Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, also said he was "very happy" with the cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fight to root out militants along their shared border.

On Saturday, Henry Crumpton, the U.S. ambassador in charge of counterterrorism, called parts of Pakistan's border region a "safe haven" for militants and said Osama bin Laden was more likely to be hiding there than in Afghanistan. He also lauded Pakistan for arresting "hundreds and hundreds" of al-Qaida figures.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said on Sunday that Pakistan is already doing enough, noting that Pakistan has deployed 80,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan -- more than U.S.-led coalition or Afghan forces.

"Now when it is said that more could be done, then America can do more, Afghanistan can do more," Kasuri said on Pakistan's Geo television.


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