KABUL, Afghanistan, April 6 -- At least 16 people were killed Wednesday when a U.S. military helicopter crashed in bad weather in southeastern Afghanistan, officials said. It was the most serious military accident since the arrival of U.S. troops here in 2001.
The CH-47 Chinook was one of two helicopters returning to the main U.S. base at Bagram, north of Kabul, after a routine mission in southern Afghanistan, when it encountered high winds, said a military spokeswoman, Lt. Cindy Moore.
The Chinook went down around 2:30 p.m. about 100 miles southwest of Kabul in a desert plain near the city of Ghazni, she said. Eighteen crew members and passengers were listed on the flight manifest, 16 of whom have been confirmed dead, according to officials. The two others remained unaccounted for when recovery operations were called off for the night.
The names of the dead are being withheld pending notification of their families, officials said. According to Moore, military investigators had not determined the nationalities or the military branches of those killed.
The Associated Press quoted the police chief of Ghazni, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, as saying that all of the dead were wearing U.S. military uniforms.
Moore said there was "no indication" the crash was caused by enemy fire. The second helicopter arrived at Bagram without incident.
About 17,000 U.S. troops are based in Afghanistan. According to the Defense Department, before Wednesday's accident, at least 122 U.S. troops had died in and around Afghanistan since the United States sent troops there after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many of the deaths were caused by accidents, including helicopter crashes and mine and munitions explosions.
Most recently, four U.S. soldiers died last month when their vehicle hit a land mine south of Kabul.