17 Spanish soldiers killed in Afghan crash

Kabul/Madrid, August 16:

A helicopter belonging to the NATO-led international security force in Afghanistan crashed in the west of the country today, killing 17 Spanish troops, officials said. A second helicopter also made an emergency landing and an unspecified number of troops on board that one were believed to be injured, said Maj Andrew Elmes, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul. Afghan army commander Abdul Wahab Walizada, whose troops are providing security in the area, said the two choppers came too close while flying and the rotor blade of one hit the other. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero broke off his vacation in the Canary Islands to return to Madrid and meet with defence ministry officials, his office said. Elmes declined to comment on the nationality of the troops or how many casualties there were.

“We do not think the helicopter crashed because of enemy activity. We think it was an accident. We think it crashed into the ground after a mechanical failure, but we are not sure and we are investigating,” he said. The Spanish defence ministry said there could have been a sandstorm in the region where the incident took place. Hostile fire was regarded as unlikely because western Afghanistan is more peaceful than the south and east, where Taliban insurgents are active. Spanish officials said five Spanish troops were injured in a second helicopter that was flying nearby and that had made an emergency landing when it saw the first aircraft go down. It was not immediately clear whether the helicopter being referred to was the same one that reportedly collided with the aircraft that crashed.