By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 3:29 PM
KABUL - Nine NATO troops were killed in a helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday morning, military officials said, making 2010 the deadliest year for the U.S.-led international force in the country. A 10th NATO service member was killed later in an unrelated bombing in the south.
The grim milestone comes as the Obama administration attempts to play down expectations for an upcoming strategy review.
U.S. officials are trying to make the case that their war plan will bear fruit in coming months now that the U.S. military has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, the most since the war began almost nine years ago. The new troops, U.S. commanders say, have allowed movement into previously uncontested Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan and an expanded presence in restive northern and eastern provinces.
Tuesday's crash in Zabul province also injured one NATO service member, an Afghan soldier and an American civilian, the military said in a statement.
The deaths came as the U.N. secretary-general issued a report noting a sharp spike in violent incidents in Afghanistan.
"The security situation has continued to deteriorate in many parts of the country," Ban Ki-moon wrote in the quarterly report to the Security Council outlining developments in Afghanistan between June and August.
Ban attributed the increase to the surge in NATO troops, stepped-up operations by Afghan security forces and more insurgent attacks.
The number of roadside bombings rose by 82 percent during the past three months, compared with the same period last year.
Coordinated suicide attacks involving more than one assailant doubled since the previous reporting period to an average of four per month, the report said. Guesthouses and offices of civilian development agencies were among the prime targets, the report said.
"Such attacks negatively affect the population's confidence in the ability of the Afghan and international security forces to uphold the rule of law and deliver essential social services," the secretary general wrote.
Targeted assassinations also increased markedly, the report said. Insurgents assassinated an average of 21 people per week during the three-month period, up from an average of seven per week during the same time frame last year.
Because violence trends have followed seasonal patterns since the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001, Western officials often compare attack levels to the commensurate periods in previous years. The summer months have historically been the most violent in Afghanistan, while the fighting generally subsides during the winter, when the cold and snow imperil troop movement.
Tuesday's helicopter crash occurred in Zabul province's Diachopan district, provincial spokesman Mohammad Jan Rasoulyar said.
The statement from NATO said the cause of the crash is under investigation but noted there were "no reports of enemy fire in the area."
The Taliban claimed that its fighters in Zabul shot down the aircraft early Tuesday as it was "flying at very low altitude," according to a statement posted on the group's Web site.
"The helicopter was completely destroyed and caught fire after it crashed to the ground," the statement, attributed to spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said.
The Taliban often exaggerates its battlefield victories and in the past has asserted responsibility for accidental NATO deaths.
Military officials did not immediately disclose the nationalities of the fallen troops.
Tuesday's crash and roadside bombing raised the toll of NATO troops in Afghanistan so far this year to 530, according to a tally kept by icasualties.org. Last year, 521 NATO troops died in Afghanistan.
The rise in casualties comes amid a U.S. troop buildup ordered by the Obama administration in an effort to turn the tide on the faltering nine-year war.
Many of the additional 30,000 American troops were deployed to Helmand and Kandahar provinces, Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan that have become the deadliest battlegrounds for NATO troops.
U.S. commanders say a series of operations, including a high-tempo Special Forces campaign, have led to the capture and slaying of dozens of Taliban leaders in the past few weeks.
Tuesday's crash appeared to be the deadliest NATO aircraft crash in Afghanistan since the Oct. 26 Chinook crash in western Badghis province, in which seven U.S. service members and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents were killed.