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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 16:31 GMT
US soldiers die in Afghan crash
A US  CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter
The Super Stallion is vital for US forces
Two American marines were killed when a military helicopter crashlanded in northern Afghanistan on Sunday.

Five others were injured in the crash, two critically, a military spokesman said.

Right now, we don't have any indication of hostile fire

US Marines spokesman
The helicopter was flying from Bagram airbase, north of the capital Kabul, to resupply US forces at the time of the crash.

The exact cause of the crash is not clear, but US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said early indications suggested mechanical failure.

Mr Rumsfeld said there was no evidence that the helicopter had come under hostile fire.

An investigation is under way.

'Flying strangely'

The CH-53E Super Stallion came down in a mountainous region of northern Afghanistan - about 60km south of Bagram air base at about 0800 local time (0330 GMT).

The specific location of the crash has not been officially disclosed.

But Reuters news agency quoted witnesses as saying the helicopter had gone down in the Bandi Ghazi area.

"We saw two helicopters in the sky. One was flying strangely and after a few seconds they both disappeared and we heard an explosion," a resident of the area told Reuters.

US Marines spokesman Lieutenant James Jarvis said: "Right now, we don't have any indication of hostile fire".

The identities of those on board would not be released until next-of-kin were notified.

The injured - two described as being in critical condition, two serious, and the fifth with minor injuries - were evacuated from the crash site to an undisclosed location, Army Captain Tom Bryant said.

Security risks

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge, reporting from Kabul, says the latest incident highlights the risks still involved in the military operations in Afghanistan - now a combination of security support for the new interim government, and the continuing pursuit of al-Qaeda and Taleban members.

There have been three fatal crashes involving US personnel engaged in the Afghanistan campaign.

The worst single casualty toll for US forces came on 9 January, when all seven Marines on board a refuelling tanker were killed in a crash near Shamsi air base in south-western Pakistan.

The cause remains under investigation.

In October last year, two marines died when their helicopter, which was supporting a special forces raid into Afghanistan, crashed in Pakistan.

They were the first combat-related American deaths in the US-led campaign.

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson
"There is no indication at the moment that the aircraft came under fire"
The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"It is the third crash of the Afghanistan campaign"
See also:

20 Oct 01 | South Asia
Helicopter crash kills two US soldiers
10 Jan 02 | South Asia
No survivors in US plane crash
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