Earlier versions of this article, including in Wednesday's editions of The Post, incorrectly said Canada would end its combat mission in Afghanistan next wekk. Canada will end its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011. This version has been corrected."
Nine U.S. troops killed in helicopter crash in Afghanistan
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 10:28 PM
Nine U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan, making 2010 the deadliest year for NATO forces there.
The United States passed that grim milestone in mid-August, when U.S. military fatalities exceeded last year's total of 317 with more than four months to go. Tuesday's crash, outside the city of Qalat in Zabul province, and an unrelated bombing that killed one unidentified NATO service member brought the total number of coalition deaths this year to at least 530, according to a tally by icasualties.org.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the casualty increase was "unfortunate, but not unexpected," with a doubling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and more aggressive operations against Taliban strongholds. The military, he said, has "gone to great pains to make it clear from the outset that it was going to get harder before it got easier, that we were going to sustain more casualties before we started to see them drop. . . . We have never tried to sugarcoat that fact."
Although Taliban forces claimed to have shot down the aircraft, a U.S. defense official said the crash appeared to have been the result of an accident. Of the 12 people aboard, two other Americans and one Afghan were injured.
The administration has played down expectations for a scheduled strategy review in December, saying that decisions about withdrawals to begin in July will not be made until well into the spring. Although Congress and public opinion have grown increasingly restive over the war, most Americans have appeared willing to wait until early next year before making definitive judgments.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has told President Obama he expects significant progress over the next several months in clearing Taliban strongholds around the city of Kandahar and in boosting the capabilities of Afghan forces there. Both Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates have expressed public optimism in recent weeks that gains are being made.
"I was encouraged by what I had seen," Gates said last week after a recent trip to Kandahar. "I think that most of us try to err on the side of caution, because of previous experiences, particularly in Iraq, of people perhaps being too optimistic - and, certainly, too optimistic prematurely." But, he said, "there is a general feeling that there has been some progress."
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 a Chinook went down in the western province of Badghis on Oct. 26, killing seven U.S. service members and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Ten NATO soldiers were killed in a crash in Konar province in 2006.
The icasualties totals differ slightly from those of the Associated Press, which compiles a similar database. But icasualties, AP and Defense Department statistics agree that this has been the deadliest year for both U.S. and overall NATO forces.
Tuesday's 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 a quarterly report to the Security Council outlining developments in Afghanistan from June through August. Ban attributed the increase to the surge in NATO troops, stepped-up operations by Afghan security forces and more insurgent attacks.