U.S. Air Force Osprey crashes in Afghanistan

By Joshua Partlow and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post staff writers
Saturday, April 10, 2010

KABUL -- A U.S. Air Force Osprey -- a hybrid helicopter-airplane with a history of accidents and design flaws -- crashed early Friday in southern Afghanistan, killing three American military personnel and one civilian, and injuring several others, according to NATO officials.

NATO said the cause of the crash is under investigation. The Taliban claimed it had shot down the CV-22 Osprey with small-arms fire, but Afghan officials in Zabul province denied that was the case.

The aircraft had arrived in Afghanistan a few days ago, part of the first deployment of Air Force Ospreys to the country, according to an Air Force official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information had not been publicly released. The Air Force uses the aircraft to transport Special Operations forces and conduct resupply missions.

It was the first time that an Osprey has crashed in a war zone since it was first deployed to Iraq in 2007, said Maj. Shawn Turner, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Marine Corps deployed a squadron of MV-22 Ospreys to Afghanistan last year and has relied on them for recent combat operations in Marja and Now Zad, in Helmand province, Gen. James T. Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, told Congress last month.

The Osprey went down about 1 a.m. Friday about seven miles west of Qalat, the capital of Zabul province.

The provincial spokesman, Mohammad Jahn Rasuliyar, said an unspecified "technical problem" was to blame.

"We strongly reject the Taliban claims that they shot down the aircraft. That place is safe. There is no insurgency at all," he said.

It was the second time in less than two weeks that a NATO aircraft has crashed in Zabul. On March 29, a helicopter went down, injuring 14 people, including NATO and Afghan troops. The Taliban also asserted responsibility for that incident, but NATO said there was no indication that insurgents shot down the aircraft.

With more pressing military priorities elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, the U.S. and Afghan soldiers left in Zabul have conceded some territory to the Taliban, whose fighters move freely in the province.

The Ospreys, which cost about $100 million each, are built in a joint venture by Bell Helicopter and Boeing. The futuristic aircraft can take off and hover like a helicopter and land in brownout conditions; once airborne, the Osprey can roll its engines forward and fly straight ahead like a fixed-wing plane.

The aircraft was nearly two decades in the making and survived several attempts by Pentagon leaders to cancel the program. In 2000, two dozen Marines were killed in two crashes involving Ospreys while on training missions in Arizona and North Carolina.

Whitlock reported from Washington. Special correspondent Javed Hamdard in Kabul contributed to this report.

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